I all but grew up on my grandmother’s porch. In many ways my grandmother raised me. Her husband, my mother’s father, had died at Christmas. I was born the following April. In her grief, my mother really couldn’t do much for me. Lala (the name I gave my grandmother) took over. My father was overseas, leading a company of men around Europe.
Once I could manage sitting up on my own, I had my own chair on “Lala’s Porch,” and she and I would spend most of the day there.
There were breaks for tea. She came from northern England, told stories of hiking across the border for picnics in Scotland. Had to break for tea.
Lala lived in an understated yet elegant brick house, the kind where the passageways from one room to another had a curved archway.
Her porch was the same, the roofline quietly curved. There was an iron fence on three sides. the fourth wall had a pile of firewood and a door.
Lala and my grandfather had lovely gardens, one a sunken rock garden where I would “set up camp.” They gathered the rocks on their travels. He called her “Lovins.” She called him “Lover.” My mother, their only child, adored her father.
The home sat on a fairly large corner lot in a quiet, all-but-English village. This enabled us to watch who was coming or going from two different directions. And that was what we did: watch the people walking by. There were always those who would say, “Hi there, Mrs. Rogers. Hi, Jackie.”
If she was unfamiliar with someone, she would often make up a story or mutter, “Good god, who would wear such a hat!?” or “I bet I know what he has in that bag.”
She never learned to drive. So each day at 2pm we would, as she said, “walk up-street,” where all her sisters lived about a mile up the hill next to one another on Broad Street. The sisters had lost their parents and were sent to America (Immigrants!) to be raised by Aunt Lil. There on Aunt Lil’s porch the sisters would congregate and kibitz.
It’s hard not to wonder if there would be less need for therapy if we all had a place to go, without needing an invitation much less an appointment, where we would gather and trustingly tell one another what was really going on in our lives.
My grandmother taught me a love of reading—by reading me comic books. I don’t recall her ever reading me a book. But the range of characters I met in those dime paper stapled stories was remarkable—we would go from Red Rider to Felix the Cat to Little LuLu to the Katzenjammer Kids before dinner, which invariably was a “meat cake” (a hamburger pattie) bought at the A & P on the way home from being with Aunt Lil and the sisters. “Here comes Mrs. Rogers. Get out the hamburger.”
Yes, she was a character. And the older I get, the more I feel her presence. While we kept our eyes on the sidewalks, she spent most of the time between lunch and heading up-street, just playing solitaire.
And what has this to do with now?
Now we have a front porch. Two chairs. We have lots of wonderful neighbors, neighbors who greet, and often stop to kibitz. And that’s when it all comes back. Well, almost all. The most important part is those just walking by. And I realize that because of this Covid I feel a deep, profound gratitude for each kindness from each neighbor as they pass.
My Grandmother Lived Mostly on Her Porch
Git,” snarled my grandmother
at any stray dog
sniffing at her lawn.
If it set a paw
on her property,
she’d yell, “Go on;
Git out of here. Go on. Git!”
and it would take off down the walk.
She lived alone, her husband, Lover,
dying four months before
my mother and I came
to live with her in her house
where she read me Marvel Comics,
the Jack of Spades is the bullet,
and took me every day
for a walk “Up street.”
We’d stop at the bank
wander through the five and ten,
sit for a couple hours
with her three sisters
on Aunt Lil’s porch.
On the way home,
we’d pick up a loaf of bread,
and some ground round for a meat cake.
First published in Sunrust.
Subsequently published in Between (Dawn Valley Press).
On August 4, Matthew Baker’s new book, Why Visit America? Henry Holt & Co., comes out. It has already received exceptional reviews, and Matt has offered remarkably insightful interviews. Esquire Magazine has called it one of the twenty must-read books published this summer.
Where are the books? Visit Reader’s World or Hope-Geneva Bookstore in Holland, The Bookman in Grand Haven, the Michigan News Agency in Kalamazoo, and The Book Nook & Java Shop in Montague to find Jack’s books in West Michigan.
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