My younger sister and I lifted my 79 year old mother from her bed by placing a towel under her. I held her frail back with one hand and the towel with the other. Her bones had become too brittle to lift her any other way. My sister held the other side of the towel and supported her spindly legs. I was surprised at how light she was. We carried her over to her wheel chair -- rarely used since she had become bedridden shortly after Christmas. Before that her health had slowly been declining. She now required round-the-clock home health care and was unable to do even the simplest of things. It was two days after Mothers Day and the first time that she had been out of her bed.
We gently lowered her into her chair and wheeled her down the hall and out the back door onto the large open porch that overlooks one of the larger back yards in the old part of town. Midwestern farm towns are not noted for large back yards, but this one used to be a cow pasture before my parents built the house in 1940. Now there are many trees, some more than 50 years old, which are testimonials to my fathers love of growing things. The trees and shrubs visually isolate the yard from the new growth of houses that, for the last 50 years, have extended the towns boundary at least two miles beyond the property, destroying woods and farm land in the process.
The sun had already set and daylight was quickly softening. It was quite warm for the 12th of May and seemed like a summer evening. The afternoon breeze had diminished to a barely perceptible movement that you could feel if you sat very still. Some robins were still busy hopping around and listening for their dinner that lay hidden beneath a newly mowed lawn, still quite green from the spring rains. Other birds chirped their evening songs from the numerous trees and bushes that my father planted years ago.
The three of us sat there talking about the small matters of life and eating dinner while we watched my favorite part of the day come to an end. As the ever dimming light blurred the details of the landscape it seemed like I had gone back in time -- to a very different time...
It was just after world war II had ended. The war and rationing following the depression of the 30s had created a fifteen-year period of hardships for many people -- hardships that caused families to be much closer. Much of our life together as a family was spent on that back porch. Except for meals, which were dominated by my father, and church, where none of us spoke, it was about the only place that regularly brought us all together at the same time. For my mother and father it was a time to relax after a hard days work. For my grandmother, who lived with us, it was a time to relax with her son and grandchildren.
Work was rarely ever done on the porch, and certainly not after dinner. During the day the porch was a refuse from the heat of the afternoon -- a place to take a break from mowing or working in the garden. The only daytime work that ever occurred on the porch was during late summer when some of us would gather to shell peas or lima beans freshly picked from our garden.
It was after dinner that the porch took on a special magic for me. My older sister and I would play in the yard with our Irish Setter while the "old" folks sat on the porch and watched. I can still feel the evenings wet grass on my bare feet as I ran around throwing stones up into the air and watching the bats dive at them, thinking they might be something to eat. When we tired of play or it got too dark, we joined the rest of the family on the porch and listened to the small talk of family elders, content that they had done their part that day in whatever role they saw for themselves in the broader scheme of things.
By this time the lightning bugs were usually out in force and there was a symphony of blinking lights to captivate our attention, accompanied by a chorus of crickets and katydids. We often sat like people who stare silently at a campfire. The silences were accentuated by the darkness, but usually cut short by another of my fathers many stories about this or that. He had more stories than anyone I have ever known, and he told them with an enthusiasm and laughter that were at best appreciated, but rarely shared.
My father always smoked his pipe during those evening gatherings. He claimed it kept the mosquitoes away. However, he kept five hives of bees as a hobby and frequently got stung without much notice on his part, so I always doubted if he could tell when a mosquito did bite him. Still, I believed him, and I liked the smell of the Sir Walter Raleigh tobacco he faithfully used, so I usually sat as close to him as possible on the downwind side.
Eventually the evening chill, the mosquitos, or the late hour was the excuse for one of the adults to announce his or her retirement to the indoors. Usually my grandmother went in first since she "got up with the chickens," as she always liked to say. It didnt seem to matter that we didnt have chickens. I dont think I ever got up before my grandmother did. Not even on Christmas morning.
Going in the house was an official end to the day for me, although when I got older I often slept on the porch or in the back yard in my U.S. Army surplus pup tent. We didnt have television back then, and my favorite radio shows were usually over, although that activity was more popular during the cooler seasons. Sometimes my father was in the mood for a quick game of rummy at the kitchen table, and I would encourage him to delay going to bed -- but that was not often.
Occasionally he would sit in his favorite chair in the living room and pay me a dime to stand behind him and scratch his head. He had a thick head of black wavy hair that he combed straight back. I can still remember the smell and feel of his hair, which contained more than a dab of hair tonic. I remember how relaxed he became as I earned my dime. I also remember the feel of his one-days growth of beard on my cheek when he kissed me good night and sent me off to bed.
My quiet reminiscence was interrupted by a mosquito bite, and by my mother who was not used to sitting up. We took her back inside and lifted her back into her bed. I wanted to go back to the porch and continue those memories, but the spell had been broken, so instead I sat next to her bed and talked with her until she began falling asleep.
I wondered if she has similar memories of those nights on the porch years ago, or what memories she was having when we sat there this time. I would have asked - but the moment seemed too special to intrude. I assumed it was even more special for my mother who now spends her days lying so close to that porch but rarely getting to see it and almost never getting to experience it with her children, and never again with my father.
Twice each Summer I drive 1000 miles to sit on that porch and relive the forties and early fifties, and I dread the day when the porch will belong to another family. They will never be able to appreciate or understand its significance and its history. It is my escape to the past, to be with my family as I like to remember them - young, vibrant, and cohesive; living as families today rarely do. That porch is a vital part of me, and I wont take its loss lightly.
This was written in 1992. My mother died in 1993. My sister moved in and lived in the house until 2003 and then sold it.