Today is the first day of spring, and for the last two days, I’ve eaten dinner out on my porch. On Sunday, it was me and my two girls. Last night, it was just Betsy and me, eating an otherwise forgettable meal of food I now wish I hadn’t purchased at Aldi (a true hit or miss place if I’ve ever seen one … avoid the porcini mushroom ravioli and Alfredo sauce; just a piece of friendly advice). Tonight, we sat outside and painted the concrete with chalk … or as we say, we chalked.
Right now, it’s looks as if something ran through my back porch. The screen has been ripped out of a couple sections. The door – my constant nemesis now for years – is broken. The wood is in terrible need of a pressure washing. My party lights were pulled down by the same wind that left the screen in tatters.
I’ve spent many a relaxing evening on my porch – wine or bourbon in hand, listening to music. I remember several years ago, standing underneath and in the distance, there was lightning in the clouds, coming in bursts every couple seconds. It was exquisite. Red, purple and fiery hues, like fireworks. It was so beautiful and so natural that I can remember them even today. From that porch, I saw the eye of Hurricane Ivan pass over and recent tornadoes in the distance.*
*Of course, I also get to see the lake the forms in my back yard when it rains because the builders did a crap-tastic job of landscaping back there … I’m not riding the bitter bus about this; only watching it make squishy stops next to my air conditioner.
When I had the house built several years ago, I had them extend the porch and leave it unfinished. Doing the porch was my project (plus, I was appalled at what they charged for it). I did almost all the work, but I also let Emma help (Ben wasn’t around then) and my neighbor, Darien (who is now at UNA).
Working in the evenings and on the weekends, it took me about two weeks to finish. Installing the ceiling fan made me invent curse words that had only been dreamt of. And I am now on my third back door.
Someone special recently asked me, “If you could do anything with your life, what would it be?” I answered almost immediately: “I’d sit on my porch, write and be wealthy enough to take care of people who depend on me.”
I don’t know why the porch figures so prominently in my dreams. As a kid, we had a front porch … and not much of one. It had a swing on it, and on cooler days, I like to lay in it and sleep.
As I’ve been writing this, I’ve been asking myself – no joking here (consider it a snapshot of how the sausage is made) – “Why DO you like your porch so much?” I don’t have a complete answer. It can be relaxing, but it isn’t always. It can be a haven, but not all the time. I compare it to the places I do writing most of the time. My office at work. My computer at home. These are places I’ve ordered to be good for writing.
But my porch is the place where the things that mean something to me often do come together … eating together and enjoying friends and family; thinking and writing; taking in the world; playing and accomplishing something. And just letting the world gently breeze its way onward. It’s the most homey of places in my home.
It’s not a place of perfection. I can also see my terrible lawn and the place on the garage where Emma ran into it. Mostly, it’s the place where all the stuff of life — the happy and sad, triumph, joy and frustration — join hands.
Many of you know that I’ve written a novel. Working on it on and off for about two years, I was sitting on that porch, my trusty old Titanium Mac laptop on the table, when I typed the last few lines of it. It was a week before Ben was born. Writing that novel was easily one of the greatest experiences of my life, not because I made one dime (which I haven’t) but because I learned so much about myself — good and not-so-good — in the process.
There have been parties that lasted way too long on my porch with people who I loved … and who I’d wished would have stayed longer. Discussions about everything and nothing. Drunk people saying and doing things that only the drunk do … And BELIEVE ME, I’d like to naming names and tagging some folks about right now; you know who you are!
In fact, after I divorced a few years ago, one of the things I was left without was a kitchen table and chairs. They weren’t “mine.” I’d given them as a gift. Today, my go-to table and chairs are outside on the porch.
This year, we had the first Thanksgiving meal of my lifetime in which my Grandfather wasn’t there. I can still remember his sometimes downright depressed blessings … “Thank you, Lord, that things are as well as they are …” My kids were all home, and my parents and grandmother came over, as did my neighbors Sam and Biz Stowe. I cooked – turkey and other trimmings. We ate outside on my porch. It was something new, bittersweet and wonderful at the same time.
The more I work on this — and I guess I have to blow a kiss in the direction of Amy Bickers and Erin Street for this insight — is that I’d always looked happiness as, well, about being happy. I’d always seen it as that positive, fuzzy feeling. But even as I’ve worked on this project and read the tender, touching words of people I’d never known before, I see happiness a different way.
Today, I see it for the whole that it is. The hardest memories I have in a difficult past year — deaths, disappointments and stressful relationships — are always … eventually … balanced by sweet memories, new opportunities and hope … They come together.
Which might explain why I’m always having to fix my porch … the good comes, the bad comes. Happiness and my porch take a licking, but I want to be out there on it, and I want it to be there for me. I’m going to have to make myself fix it, go buy the supplies and sweat.
Then some time later, I’ll toast myself with a super-cold one, on a blistering summer day, and laugh about how the winter of 2012 tore my porch to pieces.
If you haven’t already, visit some of the other great people who have taken the happiness challenge … Here are links to their blogs: