With Shelter in Place We Can Once Again Celebrate the Art of Porch Sitting

Rockin’ Rooney Blog Porch Culture…

With everyone Sheltering in Place (or is it Shelter at Home, Safe at Home, Safe in Place? I get so confused!), I’ve noticed that many people are taking to the front of their homes — especially their porches — to get out of the house and get away from all that baking, binge-watching and Zooming.

Could this be the return of the Front Porch Culture? Sitting on the porch was something that used to be a staple of American life, but with big-screen TVs, computers, video games, online shopping and other distractions driving Americans inside, this coronavirus pandemic might just bring it back. And that warms my little heart!

Sitting on your front porch (or steps, veranda, portico, stoop, landing, entryway, whatever you call your space at the front door), is one way we can connect with our friends and neighbors again — at a safe distance, of course. People want human connection so dearly they are having happy hour socials on their driveways — keeping a safe 6 feet apart (masks optional).

We dogs have loved porches ever since some human invented them. It’s perfect for us. We can nap, keep an eye on the passing parade (a very important activity, something we are very good at), snuggle with others, get a scratch behind the ears (or better yet, a belly rub) from everyone coming and going, and, if there’s a porch swing, a little light entertainment!

So that got me to thinking. How did this whole porch sitting thing get started? Did someone invent a porch and everyone just started sitting out there? And where did the name come from? Porch, sounds weird to my ears.

Apparently according to an old article in NPR, porches were a necessity before the invention of air conditioning, so folks could get away from the heat and sit and drink iced tea and gossip. Some people even slept on their porches! And they say we dogs can be goofy!

But in the mid-1800s, a well-known landscape gardener named Andrew Jackson Downing began writing of his vision of the American home and how it could stand apart from English homes (remember, back then, many Americans were originally from the British Isles). And the key to his vision was the porch.

Downing’s biographer wrote that the porch functions as an important “transitional space between the private world of the family and the public realm of the street.”

Wow, and I just thought it was just a cool place to hang out and take a nap!

The name, by the way, comes from Old French porche, derived from the Latin porticus “colonnade”, and porta “passage.” And here I thought porche was some kind of car.

And the more I dug into the history of the porch and porch culture, the more I found out. Sort of like digging in the backyard and finding an old bone. (No, mom, it wasn’t me who dug up the back yard.)

It seems like the first time the porch showed up was in Ancient Greece and Rome, where they used to display the “Porticus iustificationes,” which is Latin for “porch regulations,” four main rules that you had to follow when visiting or sitting on a porch. 

The rules were: 1. Be nice. 2. Keep your toga on. 3. Don’t spill your wine. 4. Don’t talk to politicians. Hey, even I can follow those rules — especially that last one!

And I just found out that there’s a Porch Sitters Union, which “was formed to celebrate the fine art of Porch sitting.” All this time I was sitting on our porch and didn’t know I was practicing a fine art!

There are no dues, no meetings, no voting, just sitting on a porch. On their website it says, the porch is “the only place where you can feel like you are outside and inside at the same time. The Porch is a magical place where you are transported to a better state of mind and memories are born.” Now that is my kind of union! (At porchsittersunion.com, by the way.)

As they say, the porch isn’t just a place, it’s a state of mind. A place where you can find community, especially these days. We should all endeavor to live by John Sarris’ advice: “Make your front porch a part of your home and it will make you a part of the world.”

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