contributed by Dr James Everett
LS Cultural Committee Chairman, Maybinton, South Carolina
To Porch or not to Porch
In a recent Sandlapper Magazine, a Mississippi couple visiting Upcountry South Carolina, was reported to have taught their hosts that in their part of Mississippi, the noun 'porch' is also used as a verb. They explained that it had always been customary with their family to say, 'Let's go outside and 'porch', meaning 'sit on the porch, relax on the porch.' I don't think we Carolinians use the term, but we likely should; and perhaps this little lesson in Verbal Independence may be a means to spread the usage. If so, it will definitely be a 'Southern' thing. Who would ever expect a good Chicagoan to say, 'Let's go porch?'
With a bringing back and strengthening of the best of our Southern culture, we must try to bring back porches themselves as centres of community and family life, as one of the ties that helps reinforce them. Porches are the places of remembrance, of tradition, of the practice and refinement of the art of good conversation, of the passing down of stories of the family, of the knitting of the fabric of a proper and genuine civilisation. Porches help forge the continuum that allows a society to call itself a true culture. They provide the proper nurturing setting for the continuum of heritage, as places both comforting and comfortable; and they are neighbouring things - saying, 'We are at home and not too busy or preoccupied to accept a visit.'
Perhaps one reason the South has slid in some ways to a debilitating 'Modernism' is the absence of the porch on post World War II ranch style or suburban housing. In the nineteenth century, it would have been unheard of to build a Southern home anywhere in the South without one or more large porches. In fact, in many instances, the houses almost became mere appendages of the porches, and much of the family activity was held on them. Take, for instance, the triple-tiered piazzas of Charleston and the great columned porches of the Mississippi River plantations. Even antebellum 'cottage' architecture had its essential porches.
Indeed, added to the modern hermiticism of the air-conditioned 'den,' whose altar-shrine is the television set, modern porchless, sterile, unimaginative and people-unfriendly architecture has been a major anti-traditional force; it has been a major cause of the death of the sense of true community and a major encourager of selfishness and isolation. Modern American domestic architecture is yet another example of how the standardised one-style for the entire One-Nation-Indivisible has been destructive of traditional Southerness and has been harmful to the roots of Southern culture. The one-style-for-all concept is efficient and 'cost-effective' for builders and merchandisers; but, as usual, what works for one region is destructive to another. And, so it has been with the South, having imposed upon it for several decades after WW II, a kind of alien suburban 'American' style.
So, first then, to be able to 'porch,' we need porches on which 'to porch.' It is encouraging to realise that porches can be added to straight ruler-drawn facades. Even a Bauhaus cube can have a porch attached. We can personalise - I should say 'Southernise,' the most impersonal, the most abstractly and mathematically alien object by bringing it into our humane, anti-abstractionist, people-oriented Southern tradition. Family, neighbours, community, hospitality, kindness, graciousness, tradition, remembrance, continuity, (in a single word - culture) this is what the porch has to offer to the alienation, isolation, fragmentation, and abstractionism of the so-called 'Progressive' American era.
Therefore, by all means, let's 'porch' more often, let's 'porch' whenever and wherever we can. Let's make an effort to 'porch,' and let's by all means call the ritual-activity 'porching.' This we may do in honour of the true Southern couple who spread the word 'porching' from Mississippi to Carolina, and now on to the members of the League. Such casually dropped comments as theirs can eventually make their way to a wide audience and have greater consequences than ever dreamed. If, indeed, their 'to porch' is their own unique family invention and not even used widely in Mississippi, we know that this is how language begins - as an emanation from the values of a culture and a way of living. If a word is needed to express an important action, it will be found, and in that word is the story of the speaker's way of life. When that way of life is shared by others, the word catches on.
Let's choose 'to porch.' Let's read and discuss our new issues of the Southern Patriot with family, neighbours and friends while 'porching' to our heart's content. Hopefully, the initial activity will eventually lead to its becoming an indispensable habit, whose failures to repeat will cause this clear awareness of a void which we now only vaguely intuit. The loss and absence of the porches from our Southern lives might come properly to be realised as another appropriate symbol of the modern anti-traditional cultural vacuum, whereas a resurgence of its building and use might be a clear sign of Southern cultural renewal.