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Roger Fransecky

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Do You Have a Front Porch?

Posted: 08/09/10 06:00 PM ET

It's August, a time of sultry midsummer mornings, heavy with a layer of dew that washes leaves and settles like smoke before sunrise. It's the glimpse of things to come after this record hot July, with a bass chorus of afternoon thunderstorms cannonading down the streets and dry valleys. Summer's urgency is on the wane, so it's time to find a place to listen and watch as summer matures before our eyes. How about sitting on your front porch?

Recently, Steve Jordon, a business reporter for the Omaha World Herald, shared his "little piece of paradise," the front porch of his home. As he mused, "Houses should have front porches. It's one reason we bought our house 30 years ago. Our porch goes across the whole front, but doesn't wrap around. It's deep enough for a swing on one end... the yellow or gold or red sunlight streams in horizontally so that everything is lit in a way that looks right and bright."

Steve's evocative memories of his front porch and how it was more than an entrance to his home, but instead was a place of welcome, celebration, conversation, musing and on occasions, goodbyes, prompted memories of the front porch of our childhood home. There my sister and I watched summer lightning storms, local parades (the school band always lined up outside our house), and the small moments of daily life. Living later in Los Angeles, Denver and Manhattan, I became acutely aware of the absence of places to pause, to watch, to simply be.

Now, in Omaha, I'm selling the home my late wife and I shared with it's special front porch, to live instead in a new downtown townhome with a wonderful river view and a flower-drenched patio. But, no front porch.

The good news is that there may be a trend back to more front-of-the-house living. Popping up in both renovations and new construction in many parts of the country, it seems to be all about the new old-fashioned porch.

"On one hand, there's a comeback in vintage or traditional-looking homes and front porches are inherent to those homes," says Paul Buum, AIA, associate with SALA Architects, Inc., an architectural design firm in Minneapolis. "On the other, porches are very popular because of the resurgence of urban living that we see in many cities in which people want to reconnect to their neighborhoods and the social aspect is a big part of that."

In fact, some new master-planned communities are even requiring front porches, he adds.
Front porches are also the places to hear those special "doorway truths" as actor Alan Alda reflects in "Things I Overheard While Talking to Myself."

Many readers may remember the television series M*A*S*H, which was hugely popular in the 70's and has been in reruns for 30 years. Alan Alda starred in the series and he went on to become an author and director in addition to acting. He's became known as a wise and grounded family man and father who was never compromised by the seductions of Hollywood.

For me one of his most powerful observations is that "doorways are where truth is told," that really important piece of information that's too sensitive or difficult to share in the body of the conversation but seems to come up just as someone is leaving the room or stepping off the front porch.

Have you ever had a conversation with your mom or dad, and just as they we leaving, with their hand on the doorknob, they would turn and say, "Oh yeah, there's one more thing I need to tell you ... we're moving ... ?" That's a heavy piece of information, a DOORWAY TRUTH.

To my mind, I sprinkle blog thoughts as my own doorway truths.

Even without a real front porch, it's important to find a place to "be" with yourself, to share your life with others, a front porch first of the mind, and then, perhaps, a place where you can welcome others in.

Dr. Bob Moorehead reminds us:

"The paradox of our time in history is that we have taller buildings, but shorter tempers, wider Freeways, but narrower viewpoints. We spend more, but have less, we buy more, but enjoy less. We have bigger houses and smaller families, more conveniences, but less time. We have more degrees but less sense, more knowledge but less judgment, more experts, yet more problems, more medicine, but less wellness.

We've learned to make a living, but not a life. We've added years to life, but not life to years ... we've conquered outer space but not inner space. We've done larger things, but not better things.

Always remember: life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away."