What Southern Folks Eat: The porch, where memory flows
“True luxury is being able to own your time – to be able to take a walk, sit on your porch, read the paper, not take the call, not be compelled by obligation.” – Ashton Kutcher
There is something right about a porch on a house. It doesn’t even matter what kind of house; whether it’s a mansion or a mobile home, a shotgun shack or a log cabin, if you put a front porch on. it, it becomes the best house on the block.
My family has always had a thing for porches. We have always had at least a small one, from my earliest days. Mama had a wooden bench that in the ‘70s had an American bald eagle decal centered on the top of its back rail. I remember sitting on it when we lived in a little neighborhood in Charlotte, North Carolina. during the first few years of my life. My friend Angie and I played out many a Barbie doll adventure on that porch and sitting on its bench. Those were the days… you may recall them… when we kids went outside to play with other kids and used our imagination. We dreamed up adventures and acted them out in three-dimensional reality. Those were the best days. But I digress.
When our family went to visit my dad’s father, whom we called Papa, he was always on his screened front porch when we arrived. Always. He’d be wearing his brown trousers and his suspenders over a plaid button-up shirt, sitting on his metal glider with his wooden cane beside him, or in his hands, using it to propel the glider’s motion. He had his spittoon within arm’s reach. It was an empty coffee can, most times.
Papa would see us pull up in front of the house and he’d be so happy. He’d call out to us as soon as we got out of the station wagon. “Bobbie, y’all come on in here and let me see those babies.”
We’d walk up the short walkway, past the bushes heavy with huge blue hydrangea flowers, and up the steps. Then dad would pull open the screen door, which creaked open in such a welcoming manner, and step onto the little wooden porch where Papa held court. No one got in that house without stopping to hug his neck and receive a kiss on the cheek.
“Bobbie, go get that baby a Coke,” he’d say to my dad, referring to me. Daddy would take me through the house to the back porch, used mostly for storage, and there would be a wooden Coca-Cola crate, full of small green-tinted glass bottles of Coke. I always looked forward to that exotic way of drinking a Coke. We never bought the small bottles at our house. That made it even more special to me at the time. Then we’d head back to the front porch to sit and visit with Papa.
My sister and I continue to love porches, gravitating toward them wherever we go. When we visited the circa-1859 lighthouse in Pensacola, there was a porch with a gracious plenty of rocking chairs on it at the old keeper’s house museum beside the lighthouse, and we immediately took a seat after we’d finished the 177-step climb to the top of the lighthouse. We had the best view in Pensacola at the top of that lighthouse, and the best seats in Pensacola on the porch of the museum.
In May we were home in St. Joe, and after a busy day of helping our dad with medical visits, we stopped by the Piggly Wiggly to get some boiled peanuts and Diet Dr. Pepper. We took our fancy little dinner over to the keeper’s quarters at the lighthouse, climbed the steps near the gift shop and sat down in the two rocking chairs they’ve so hospitably placed there. We enjoyed the peaceful evening sounds of the birds and frogs looking for dinner while we ate ours in peace.
There’s something about the movement of a swing or rocking chair on a porch that gently shakes loose the thoughts you’ve been pondering, the memories you’ve been forgetting, or the songs you’ve been humming in your subconscious. They all came spilling out as we sat there rocking and shelling peanuts for the next hour or so.
As we reluctantly got up to leave, I thought about how that has long been the way many people have spent warm Southern evenings: enjoying a meal, then sitting for a spell on the porch, talking about the day with family or with friends who happened by; not rushing, not worrying about the time. I think it is one of the best things about the South, don’t you?
Maybe some of you are a little out of practice. I encourage you to invite the neighbors or some relatives over to build that “porch-sittin'” community up again, just like Papa.
If you’re planning to do any porch sittin’ soon, consider baking up a plate of these cookie bars, and share them with your guests. It’ll make the experience all the better. They’re deliciously chewy and studded with chocolate chips, which are perfectly complemented by the light flavor of cinnamon.
Stephanie Hill-Frazier is a writer, food blogger and regional television chef, whose on-air nickname is “Mama Steph.” She grew up in Gulf County, on St. Joe Beach, a place she will forever call home. She is married and has three young adult sons who are considerably taller than she is. You can find more of her recipes at whatsouthernfolkseat.com.