Friday, March 26, 2021

Focusing on "A Front Porch Frame of Mind" During Re-Enrollment Time 2021

There was a time when more folks 
 had a “front porch” frame of mind, 
and they’d sit out hot nights sippin’ tea— 
makin’ most of a melon rind. 
They knew the beckon of a breeze 
that made ‘em lean back with a sigh 
and say, “Maybe five more minutes…” 
to some silhouettes passing by. 
“Just out for a walk,” a voice responds, 
“Till the house cools down a bit.” 
And by and by, more friends were there 
than there were places to sit. 
It was natural as a cricket’s chirp 
or the smell of a new-mowed lawn 
to gather there like window moths 
(when an inside lamp’s left on). 
Just neighbors visiting neighbors 
in the kindness of the night… 
where differences are dimly lit 
and love needs little light.
© Copyright 1995, Tom Kapanka, June 28, 1995, Patterns of Ink

It's re-enrollment time at Calvary, and we have been walking several prospective families around our building each week (up until this unusual week). Due to lingering pandemic protocols that limit mixing of cohorts and the number of guests in our building at one time, Open House and "Friends Day" is quite different than years past. 

This year's re-enrollment response has been fantastic. Most of our current families have returned their forms, etc. In light of our recent transition to virtual in grades 6-12 from now through Spring Break, we are extending the incentive deadline through next week. If you cannot make it to the building in person, please send Chris Stewart a note of confirmation at Then just bring in the forms as soon as possible the week after Spring Break.

Please read on as our goal this spring if for our whole school family to adopt a "a front porch frame of mind" as we welcome new families to our building this spring.  Some families have already returned "Family Referral Forms" filled out for both them and the family they have invited to CCS. 

I wrote the poem above twenty-six years ago. My mom liked it so much that it hung framed by her front door for years. (Even as an adult that meant a lot to me.)  She said it reminded her of summer nights on her front porch as a kid in Port Huron, MI. That's my mom's front porch in the picture (circa 1939, when the house was only 20 years old). To me, it was Grandma's front porch--nothing fancy but big enough for a glider and a few chairs.

That house still stands on the corner of  Forest Street and Riverview (a few blocks from the Blue Water Bridge) The sidewalks in that neighborhood are only about six feet from the front porches. People passing by often stopped to talk. I remember sitting there as a child and listening to the grown-ups talk about old times. 

Many years later, in 1985, when my wife and I purchased our first home, my parents came to share in the delight. The front porch was enclosed by a white wrought-iron railing and barely big enough for guests to stand aside as the front door opened. On the last night of their visit, Mom and I sat together on the top step, and when my dad and daughters came to join us, there was no room for them. "I wish this house had a bigger front porch like at Grandma's house," I sighed.  

Mom smiled and said, "You don't have to have a big front porch to have a front porch frame of mind." 

She had no idea that her words would tumble in my mind for years and end up in a poem. 

Think about this with me. I've never read or heard anything on this topic,* but the features of houses (and neighborhoods) say a lot about human relationships. At the beginning of the 20th Century, front porches were a prominent part of most houses. I like porches. They say, “Our house is your house. Sit a while and visit.”

In 1920, when my grandmother's house was built, cars were just coming on the scene, and they did not yet own one. By the Great Depression, those who could afford a car sometimes built a small shed in their back yard to keep it out of the weather. It was not until after WWII, as new homes multiplied that the garage was not an afterthought. By the end of the century, cars had became part of the family, and the most prominent feature of a house was no longer a front porch but a huge garage door that open and closed automatically behind the driver. The attached garage marked the beginning of the end of the "front porch frame of mind."

This was not just a design change in houses, it was literally a social change that came with the car as people walked less and stores, schools, and churches moved beyond walking distance. The attached garage meant neighbors could enter their confines without so much as a wave to others (depending on whether their mailbox is also attached to the house). 

As natural neighborly interaction declined, people became more selective with their social time and designed social space moved from the front porch to rear decks and patios (often behind privacy fences). There is nothing wrong with privacy. I'm merely pointing out the difference between back yard gatherings ..and the spontaneous welcome of a front porch near a sidewalk. 

There is another modern convenience that ended "the front porch frame of mind:" air conditioning. My grandma’s house with a the porch had no air conditioning (AC) nor did my childhood home. In fact, I did not live in a house with AC until that one in 1985. I'm a fan of AC, but we must pause to consider the unintended consequences of that comfort and how it has changed the social behavior of neighborhoods. 

Before AC, hot nights drove people outdoors for walks or to their front porches to sit and hope for a breeze. There they were… outside...till all hours of the night with folks strolling by. It was unthinkable not to speak. Hard to stay strangers for long. All that happened on the front porch. Over time, and the cycles of the seasons, neighbors introduced kids (and grandkids). They all knew of graduations, weddings, and the passing of loved ones. In short, the neighborhood shared life face to face—no invitation needed—all because it was a hot night and no one had AC. Once AC came along, however,  a part of us closed off from each other along with our closed doors and windows. Sadly, today's neighborhoods have replaced true conversations with a nod of the head from passing cars.

Think with me about front porches just a moment longer. Are you more of a back deck, privacy-fence kind of person? Or do you have a front porch frame of mind? It’s not a "right or wrong" answer. Most people are a blend of both, but knowing how you lean socially may help sweep off your “front porch,” figuratively speaking. How about your family? How about your church or “small group,” or the school or your choice? 

We've been giving walk-throughs of our school almost every day after school in recent weeks. These prospective observers to the school mention that there’s an inviting atmosphere even under the protocols of a pandemic. Imagine if they could see our school under normal conditions:

Typically, the front office counter is a hub of neighborly chatter; my office door is wide open whenever possible, and drop-ins are frequent; teachers are accessible; volunteers feel at home and at any given time there may be a dozen throughout the building; the front rotunda is often  a gathering place for talking parents who lose track of the time. Oh, how I miss those days, and we look forward to their return. 

Even before Covid-19 protocols, CCS operated a "closed campus” for security reasons, but even so, the tone of our school is welcoming and inviting. People comment on this through the years. What’s our secret? How does this feel like a neighborhood in a 60 -acre woods? Why does the UPS man smile as he waits in line for a signature? Why do parents who no longer have kids in the school still stop by to purchase SCRIP? Why do alumni come back whenever they can? Why do teachers and therapists from the public sector enjoy their assignment to CCS (and often continue to serve here after retirement)? There are many reasons, but I think the main one is...

CCS has always had a front porch frame of mind.  
Let's let it show this spring!

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*UPDATE: My mom first used that phrase in 1986, and I first wrote the poem and these thoughts (less the part about CCS) in the early 90's. I mention this because while re-writing this post recently, I thought about the fact that I had never heard or read anything on what I consider a significant topic. I'm pleased to say that if you do a Google search with the words "front porch / community" you may find at least three related articles that I had never read. This one, provides the history, cultural significance, decline, and reappearance of American from porches--there's amazing agreement in our thoughts. (He tends to give more credit to the arrival of cars and television to the decline of the front porch. I still hold that AC is the biggest factor, because had cars and TV, but without AC, we spent evenings out on the porch and front lawn. This second article is shorter, but strongly underscores this post. It begins with this quote from a Tracy Lawrence song: "If the world had a front porch like we did back then, we'd still have our problems, but we'd all be friends." Get this... the author describes "Neo-traditional" communities that are going back to front porches: "The streets are designed to encourage walking and socializing among the neighbors. ...The neo-traditional neighborhoods have sidewalks and trees lining the streets for pedestrians. Front yards are shallow so that neighbors converse easily between the sidewalks and the front porches....The porch is a symbol of community, offering an invitation with its front steps reaching out and meeting the sidewalk, drawing passers-by to the comfortable chair or swing. The porch encourages family and neighborly communication." So there you have it. These articles were written AFTER I wrote this poem and essay twenty years ago. I'm not the only one who believes a "A Front Porch Frame of Mind" can still work in the 21st Century.

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