When I was growing up in Marion, Kentucky, all of the houses had front porches and every one sat on theirs. In the 1920's, with few telephones and no local radio station, the front porch was our main means of communication. If something happened on one end of town, within a matter of minutes people on the other end had heard the news. I don't know what happened, but people stopped sitting on their porches. Maybe there was a city ordinance passed forbidding people to sit on them and there was nobody on our porch to hear the news that day.
Our house had a porch running the width of the front of the house. On one end was an oak swing hanging by rusting squeaky chains. On the other end was a willow settee and two chairs, with a matching flower stand and may basket. My mother bought them from the Gypsies who camped across the railroad tracks near the willow thicket. They drove around town, in an old dilapidated truck, peddling porch furniture. They had made it from the willows that grew fast and tall in the damp soil; kept moist by run-off water from the washer at the fluorspar mill nearby.
I don't know of any family who had two cars back then. People walked where they needed to go. There were no school buses so we walked to school. We didn't have a cafeteria, we either walked home or carried our lunch to school in a pail.
Every school day I kissed my mother goodbye, hopped off the front porch and began the six block walk to school. She would stand on the porch, wave goodbye and yell last minute instructions, until I was out of earshot. "Keep those shoe laces tied If you tramp the aglets off it's hard to lace your shoes'", "Pull that toboggan over your ears!" or "Don't eat your fried pie until lunch time!"
While walking those six blocks I knew that the, eagle, eyes of the other mothers and my relatives in the neighborhood, were watching me. I knew who would give me a glass of water, and just might have cookies. I always worked up a thirst when I came to that house. I used my best manners and gave her my sweetest smile. I also knew where the old grouches lived.
One front porch I shall remember always, is that of Granny White-Asher. She was the first woman I ever knew with a hyphen in her last name. She wasn't really my grandmother nor anyone else's that I know of. I don't know why we called her that, perhaps it was just that she was so old. Usually, when you think of a granny, you think of someone who is kind, sweet and doting - not so with this granny. She didn't even like children, she was wicked. Even her appearance was terrifying.
She wore a dark, long sleeved, calico, dress, which came down to her ankles. Her apron was a burlap tow sack tied around her waist with a bit of rope. She wore high top shoes and a World War I army hat. She stood on her porch with her broom in hand, like a sentry. It was a frightful sight to little children. If we ever dared to skate on her sidewalk she would pound on her porch with her broom handle and shout "GET OFF OF MY WALK--NOW!" You can believe me, we obeyed her command.
Three of the Yandell brothers lived on East Belleville Street. One was, my father, Mitt Yandell. There was one house between our house and Uncle Tom's white frame house. Uncle Will lived in the next house which was red brick. I always referred to them as wood house uncle and brick house uncle. I had to pass their houses on my way to school. When I went back to school after lunch they were sitting on their porches. Aunt Kate would say, "You'd better hurry, Pig, you're gonna be tardy!" (She had given me the nickname, Pig, because Mama let me nurse for so long). As I passed brick house Uncle's, Aunt Florence would yell, "Stand up straight!" or "Throw those shoulders back!" They always gave me some kind of an order with their greeting, but I didn't mind because, Aunt Florence would give me the Dolly Dingle paper dolls from her "Pictorial Review" magazines Sometimes, Aunt Kate would give me a stick of chewing gum or a jaw breaker.
I cut a wide swath around the LaRue house. They were always sitting on their front porch. I walked on the sidewalk across the street, and tried to hold my breath, when I passed their house. I heard Mama tell someone that Mrs. LaRue had pernicious anemia. I didn't know what that was, but I didn't want to catch it. I had already brought measles, scarlet fever, whooping cough, and even head lice home, to share with my three nieces. I knew if I gave them pernicious anemia I would never live to see another Christmas.
I miss hearing our neighbors calling from their porches. I even miss the neighborhood "busybody" who saw, almost, every mean thing I did. I miss her shouts of, "Your mother is going to hear about this, Mildred, or other children yelling, "Munner, I'm going to tell Mrs. Yandell.
In 1995 I returned to Marion for my 55th High School reunion. I drove past the houses on East Belleville Street, but there was no one sitting on the porches to wave to me as I went by. You know, everyone talks about how bad children are today, but where are the people on the front porches to guide them along life's way?
Millie Wilson © Millie Wilson 10-10-1995
10-10-1995 May not be used without permission