July 3, 2007 psipsina

The Red-Haired Boy and I went for a walk tonight after dinner. The weather in Boston is absolutely delightful, high 60s, dry, cool – Boston’s cool summers almost make up for Boston’s harsh winters. Maybe they even make up for that flood- and slush-fest that masquerades as spring.

We live in a neighborhood full of two-family homes with porches that range from pretty darn nice to absolutely awesome. And in our 30 minute walk, guess how many people we saw sitting on their porches, enjoying the evening air?

One. And he looked as if he were cleaning up from some repair project rather than enjoying the air.

We didn’t even see any smokers banished by their spouses or roommates.

Thirty years ago, if you walked around an urban or small-town neighborhood on a summer evening, and the porches were empty, you’d suspect the worst – that nuclear war had struck, or the population was quarantined with some weird but highly contagious plague. When I was a kid, we lived on the porch every evening, burning mosquito coils and talking to the neighbors. (And we were one of those families that always had the TV on, from the time the first person got up until the last person went to bed. Yet we still took a couple of hours from our demanding TV schedule to sit on the porch.) I am, I admit, jealous of the porch people. They don’t deserve porches, whereas I, who would spend every evening out there until the temperature dropped below 50 degrees, am about to move into a house with no porch, just a tiny stoop with no room for a chair. Where’s the justice?

When we were looking at houses, we ran into several that had these beautiful old tiled hearths that weren’t quite fireplaces. We couldn’t figure out what the weird apparatus in the middle was until our agent pointed out it was probably a grate for burning coal. We thought that was fun and quaint and might make a good conversation piece, though the house we are actually buying does not have one.

Is that, I wondered tonight, how people who live in houses with porches look at them? Some quaint feature of a house that people used for entertainment and fresh air before the advent of reality TV and air conditioning? The problem is, talking to our neighbors was not just a form of entertainment. It was the glue that kept the community together. And don’t get me started on the environmental and economic benefits of turning off the A/C and going outside to catch a breeze. I mean, it’s New England, for Christ’s sake. You can count the number of 90 degree days every year on one hand.

Over Memorial Day, the RHB and I went to a reunion of several of his high school friends. One of the events was a “barbecue” at someone’s beautiful house on a one-acre lot. It was a lovely day, but we spent all day in the air-conditioned house. And all I could think was, “Why are we inside? There’s all this lovely outdoor space where we could get a little sun or sit under a huge beautiful tree and sit back with a cool drink.” I suggested a couple of times that we might go outside, but no one else wanted to, and I didn’t want to be the weird spouse hanging out outside by herself.

But I really didn’t understand. Had it been 90 degrees, or raining, I’d’ve been the first person to admit that the Great Indoors is really swell. But because it was such a nice day, I couldn’t understand what we were all doing inside. And it strikes me as another sign of the erosion of our community lives, that we organize our lives around the interiors of our homes, no matter how inviting the exteriors are. I don’t mean to romanticize neighborliness – when I was a kid, some of our neighbors were horrible snobs or irritating pricks, but I still think knowing them did me no harm. Have we become afraid our neighbors will bite us?

Truthfully, I think we have.


Entry Filed under: boston, cities, culture, life, moving, nostalgia, porch, small town, society, summer

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