USA TODAY US Edition

My porch offers peace, insight as summer sanctuary

- Connie Schultz USA TODAY columnist Connie Schultz is a Pulitzer Prize winner whose novel, “The Daughters of Erietown,” is a New York Times bestseller. You can reach her at CSchultz@usatoday.com or on Twitter: @ConnieSchu­ltz

Earlier this week, I did something I haven’t been able to do since August. I poured steaming coffee into one of my favorite mugs, pulled the lapels of my bathrobe a little tighter and headed straight to the front porch, where I spent the first full hour of my Wednesday morning.

The semester had finally come to end, and I had nowhere to go. No quick swipe through digital headlines, no 45minute drive to campus. Instead, I settled into the weathered rocker, armed with a blue Pilot V Razor Point pen, a small notebook and the stack of newspapers that landed before dawn on our doormat. Coffee is for waking up. The pen is for marking up. Newsprint always brings out the opinion writer in me.

Ten minutes into my reading, I heard a friendly “Hi there,” and lowered the paper. It was one of our neighbors who walks every morning, no matter the weather, and knows my schedule because she’s observant that way.

“You’re back on the morning porch,” she said, waving. “Welcome home.”

She had no idea just how softly her words landed.

Porches, swings, childhood dreams

Living in this neighborho­od in Cleveland is the closest I’ve come in adulthood to feeling the peace I found on the front porches of my childhood. My parents rented two houses before owning one, and all three had a porch with a swing and a smattering of chairs in summer.

Most of my childhood was spent in the middle house, which had the biggest porch. During the day, it was shaded by tall maples and honeysuckl­e vines. In the evenings, it caught whatever breeze Lake Erie felt like sending our way. She’s a moody thing.

In my experience, you often get a glimpse into a person’s soul by how they respond the first time they set foot on your front porch. If they grew up with one, you’re probably going to hear about it. Lots of stories of childhood dreams in the languid days of front porch summers.

I was the oldest of four kids and raised to set an example for my siblings. That’s exhausting work. When I was 13 or so, I used to think the front porch was the one place I could reliably hide from my mother and her never-ending list of marching orders. Only in my 30s, when Mom was sitting with me on my own front porch swing, did I discover she always knew when I was out there.

“I figured by the time you were out on that porch, you needed a break,” she told me. “You had to spend some time in that world in your head.” She described me as a tanned bundle of elbows and ankles, curled up on the swing, reading a book and scribbling notes on a spiral pad. I’ve held on to that image for 30 years.

Was this when I knew I would become a writer? Wouldn’t that be a nice story, but I can’t make the claim. I do know whenever I see a front porch, I recall how I used to sit on ours and think about who I might want to be one day. In writing that, I see how nothing has changed.

Maybe it’s the habit of porch thinking, or the memories of it that ignite my mind. Or maybe it’s something else that makes my front porch the one place where I reliably shut out the day’s noise and discover new conversati­ons brewing deep inside me. Writer’s mind, you understand.

Give me my porch and all will be OK

This morning I potted some new flowers in the wooden boxes that straddle the front porch railing. I filled them with an overflow of night sky petunias. I like their purple and blue petals, and how they’re freckled with little dots that look like stars. I hung a couple baskets of fuchsia, too, with purple and pink trumpets, and tied the seat cushions onto the two Nantucket rockers. Some would likely point out we’re nowhere near the salty air of the Atlantic and those rockers have needed fresh paint since 2017. My porch, my dreams. Goodness, this world.

I need my flowers. I need the smiles of friendly neighbors. I need the peace of my front porch, where stars twinkle in the light of day and just this morning I heard the rumblings of a new conversati­on trying to begin.

 ?? GETTY IMAGES ?? You often get a glimpse into a person’s soul by how they respond the first time they set foot on your front porch, writes columnist Connie Schultz.
GETTY IMAGES You often get a glimpse into a person’s soul by how they respond the first time they set foot on your front porch, writes columnist Connie Schultz.
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