Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Front Porch Chronicles

I’m trying to start a newspaper column. I’m thinking of calling it the Front Porch Chronicles. Here is what I hope to be the debut; let me know what you think:

Welcome to my front porch, the place where I sit to relax with my family, chat with neighbors, and reflect on life in general. It is a real porch, one outfitted with seating for four, a coffee table for serving brunch or wine and cheese, an iron statue of a dog I’ve named Rusty, and an end table featuring a lamp that stays on late into the night, welcoming passersby who succumb to the temptation to walk up onto the porch to sit for a while. Here, everyone is welcome.

It is from this porch that I find inspiration as an author, taking note of what is said or what I see in the community park before me and on the sidewalk passing before the front steps of my neighbors’ homes on this cul-de-sac where we live. It is where my wife and I read the newspaper, talk about our children and our hopes for their lives, and spend time simply lingering in each other’s company. It is where we laugh out loud with, listen to the worries of and have meaningful conversations with our two daughters. It is where our neighbors sit and share their life stories and major announcements, leftover meals, and sometimes their tears.

Recently my wife and I invited a neighbor to relax on the front porch with us and watch the sun go down. We chatted about this and that, exchanging news (all right, gossiping) about others in the neighborhood. To make sure we knew who each were talking about, we gave every house a name. There’s the Party House, Playboy House, Dog House, Disco House, Mystery House, and among others, ours, the Newlywed House.

We bought our home two years ago when my wife and I married, blending our families into one in a home where we all could have a fresh start together. It’s called the Newlywed House because my wife and I are so often seen cuddled together on the loveseat on the front porch, much to the apparent life threatening embarrassment of our daughters, but that is another story altogether.

The other homes on the cul-de-sac are so named for what seem to us to be obvious reasons. For example, it was at the Party House that another neighbor and I watched our wives dancing on the kitchen counter and then easily agreed the martini shaker was a worthwhile investment. But no matter what the house is nicknamed, all are the homes of our neighbors, our friends.

Perhaps it is because we live on a cul-de-sac or maybe it is the time we spend together in the park where we watch children romp and play fetch with our dogs, but our neighbors really are our friends. And I don’t mean casual acquaintances, I mean the kind of friends with whom you exchange house keys, to whom you lend your car or borrow a stick of butter, even if it means going into their refrigerator when they are not at home. The kind of friends that watch out for your children when you aren’t looking, who grab your newspaper from the sidewalk and toss it onto the porch when you aren’t at home, or who rescue your mail on a rainy day if they see it sticking out of the mailbox.

It is from these moments I observe while sitting on my porch that I find material to write about. My writing is auto-biographical, sometimes poignant, sometimes humorous, but always based on events or conversations that have actually happened. In my books, and now in this column, I share stories about my family and friends, ponder out loud about what perplexes me, and, I hope, occasionally cause my readers to reflect on their own lives and stir them to embrace those they love a little tighter.

My front porch is also where I now and then spend time alone with Rusty, worrying about the things that keep a father and husband awake while everyone else in the house is asleep and peacefully dreaming about shoes. It is where I think about the life I’ve led, the sins I’ve committed, the things I want to make right, the work I have left to do, and wonder how much longer I might have on this Earth to get to it all. And in the end, I suppose, that is why I write - so that in case I can’t get to everything, you will know that at the very least, I meant to.

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