When I sat on the porch and watched the highway
By Tom Poland
It’s a vanishing art, porch sitting.
There was a time, though, when folks retired to the porch just to pass the time. As a boy, I sat on my parents’ screen porch and counted the trucks going by.
When that bored me, I’d guess which color car or truck might come by next. When that got old, I counted the pulpwood trucks rolling by for it was the day of the green monoculture’s emergence and pulpwood trucks aplenty plied the Augusta Highway. I sat on the porch each day and watched the highway.
The day passed.
Folks don’t do much porch sitting anymore. Air conditioning and television keep them inside. If they do any sitting at all, it’s out back on the deck or around the pool.
On a recent Sunday with time on my hands I drove into the country on a mission. I wanted to find the long and winding dirt road Dad sometimes took on the way to my maternal grandparents’ home in Beulah. Somehow, Dad knew water covered a bridge and we’d take a winding old dirt road to bypass it.
I made a Sunday drive to find that dusty memory lane, and I found it and something more, a genuine porch-sitting man. I passed a home along a back road and a fellow wearing a hat waved at me.
That’s all it took. I turned around and went to see this ambassador of days when folks waved at passersby. As soon as I parked, a clowder of cats shot beneath his porch. James Ferguson was the gentleman’s name and he and his blue-eyed porcelain cat and I had a splendid visit.
We tossed a few names about and soon we had lots of friends in common. James remembered my Dad’s old saw shop, and he told me he was cousin to my childhood friend, Jessie Lee Elam, whom I know as Sweetie Boy, so named by my granddad for his sweet nature.
James didn’t mind if I took photos and soon I had images of his washboard, burn barrels, and woodpile. We fessed up that we like the old ways, and I was glad James likes to sit out front and wave at folks.
He wore some fine workboots and in fact had a second pair, just as fine, sitting on the porch beside him. Those boots turned the talk to work. Somehow we moved to collard greens and other people we knew, and when I left I felt had a new friend. I’ll go back and give James a copy of this column and porch sit some more.
And where might Jame’s porch sitting take place? Along a back road in rural Georgia where creeks sing, where cars leave contrails along dirt roads, and byways sport memorable names like Seed Tick Road and old country stores sleep the day away.
How’s that? What did you say?
Guilty, your honor, I confess I sit on my deck, not my porch, so count me among those who abandoned the art of porch sitting. It’s a thing of the past for most, but there was a time when it made for a good ending to the day.
Around the time firefly blinking commenced, our renowned lightning bug time, we’d long have been sitting on the porch drinking tea. Soon cicadas’ rising-falling singsong would give our summer evening rhythm, a pleasing crescendo decrescendo. After dark, katydids would chime in with their nightshift song, and soon from an isolated outpost the lilting call of a whip-poor-will would drift through all that darkness. Then it was time to call it a night.
Such peaceful times gave way to the blather of television and the whispering of air conditioning. And so a friendlier time ended. You no longer sat on the porch and waved.
James, however, does. So here’s to James, son of High Pockets. He waved. I turned around, and I have a new friend, and you have our story, and maybe just maybe some fond memories of porch sitting.