I love porches with a waist-high wall wide enough on which to sit. I can perch on the edge of my turf, drink a glass of wine and observe the pedestrians passing on the sidewalk or the busy traffic whizzing by on the boulevard. The porch provides a semblance of distance, far enough away so I’m not bothered by the street noise yet close enough to view some of life’s little melodramas unfolding just beyond.
I remember watching a kid, 3, maybe 4 years old, riding his tricycle on the sidewalk as his dad walked ahead. The kid, obviously tired, just stopped on the sidewalk and would go no farther. At first, the dad waited for him, exhorting him on with, “C’mon. Let’s go. Let’s go.” The kid wouldn’t budge. The father walked on, perhaps thinking that a child’s fear of separation would motivate his son to get moving. Not a chance. Now it was a test of wills. The father stood with hands on hips in palpable frustration.
Witnessing this standoff from my porch, I tensed as the dad retraced his steps and loomed over his son. Now he’s going to get it, I thought, for surely if I were a parent (which I am not) I wouldn’t let my kid get away with this without a perfunctory spank on the bottom to show him who’s boss. Instead, the man stooped down, gathered his son in one arm, picked up his trike in the other and calmly walked home.
I don’t imagine that the memory of this incident will figure as poignantly for the child as it has for me. I think of it often; it gives me pause during moments of exasperation. Who could’ve guessed that my porch would provide such unexpected opportunities for me, as unwitting witness, to reflect, to learn, and (I hope) to follow the father’s example?
At other times, an ordinarily concealed human foible is unveiled to me. Take the guy walking his dog. At some point, the dog is compelled to do what dogs do, and the owner is faced with the decision to either obey or ignore the city’s pooper-scooper laws. With a furtive peek over his shoulder, knowing he should be cleaning up after his dog but relishing the delicious possibility of being able to get away with something, he walks on, confident no one has noticed. But I, from my vantage point, recessed in shadow, an observer obscura, have noticed.
I wish I could say that it didn’t bother me, but I was irritated at the irresponsibility. Ah, the wrath of the self-righteous. For aren’t we most upset at those venial sins to which we ourselves can claim some expertise? And who am I to pass judgment? Haven’t I done my share of cutting corners in my lifetime, thinking no one would notice?
As I continue to watch the human parade of flaws and shortcomings march in front of my porch, there is another flash of self-recognition: “Oh, look! There’s Laziness! And here comes Impatience!” Then I wave at them and smile, relieved that their burden is not mine alone to bear.
Some evenings, when I especially need the respite of my porch, I can coax my husband into barbecuing out there. I prepare the rest of the meal well before he lights the charcoal so I don’t miss any of the great smells. He usually puts some mesquite chips in the bottom of the grill for extra flavor, and he always smokes a cigar.
The smell of a cigar reassures me. My dad smoked cigars, and that scent was as much a part of him as that of his Old Spice After Shave, scents that were a mixture of authority and security, unquestionable and unspoken, scents that clung to the drapes and carpeting long after he had left the room and that continue to cling to the fabric of my memories of him in these months since his passing.
I tried a few stogies myself in my rebellious teens, mostly in our downstairs family room watching a Notre Dame football game on TV after my Saturday chores were done. My mom thought Dad was watching the game with me, because of the cigar smell, so she was quite surprised when he walked into the house after his weekly car wash. I can’t remember if they grounded me (that time), but I think my dad was more upset that I had smoked one of his cherished Coronas instead of buying my own with my hard-earned baby-sitting money.
Nowadays I don’t mind spending a little cash to buy my husband some good cigars. He thinks I’m buying them for his smoking pleasure. There’s some truth to that, but I also do it for me, for my comfort, to create a certain ambience on our porch, perhaps to extend the certainty of my youth into the unpredictability of my future. These thoughts waft through my mind as the aromas of cigar, barbecue and mesquite intertwine and then blanket me on our porch wall, front-row seat, sipping my wine.
Becky Code lives and writes in Athens,Ohio.