The Art of Porching
Where dogs are welcome
Guest Post by Brad Furlott
On the block south of our home is a house with a Canadian flag and a large handwritten sign on the front door stating in no uncertain terms, “Dogs welcome. No salesman or canvassers.”
Here, dogs rank above humans. This is Joyce’s house, and she sits on her front porch most days in the summer. Sometimes her husband joins her. They look to be well into their 80’s. Joyce keeps a bowl of water on the porch, and a container of treats for any dog that passes. Our dog, Murphy, knows the house and wants to go up on the porch every time he passes. The forlorn look on his face when Joyce isn’t out is heartbreaking. But more than keeping the neighbourhood dogs well-treated, Joyce knows the power of the porch. She gets it.
When Murphy and I pass by, she coaxes him up on the porch, gets down on all fours, something even I can’t do easily, and gives him a treat, or two, or three. We exchange pleasantries. I don’t know her well. We share a little small talk for a small time. Then we move on. If there aren’t any more treats coming, Murphy loses interest quickly.
We live in an older part of Toronto. Our house was built in 1923, and most of the surrounding houses are from the same era. All have porches, a style that has been discontinued in newer construction.
I was walking Murphy in the early evening, during one of the summer heat waves, where the temperatures went up to 32 and 33 degrees Celsius with humidex readings well into the 40’s. I was in shorts and a T-shirt, and Murphy was in his usual fur coat. As we walked, I couldn’t help but notice that only a few people use their front porch.
I remember my mother talking about a heat wave in the 1930s where some guy allegedly fried an egg on the steps of city hall, and someone else tried to pop corn on the Sunnyside Beach boardwalk. I looked it up. For a week in July 1936, the temperatures reached 40 degrees Celsius. It killed hundreds. During that heat wave, it’s easy to picture our street alive with people escaping the heat of their houses, the men stripped to their undershirts, sipping a beer, the women with wilting finger waves in their hair.
There would be socializing with friends and neighbours over the railings of the porches. Some would even sleep outside to escape the heat. We had a glimpse of this a few years ago when a blackout occurred, and people came out on their porches awaiting the return of the lights, and we all talked. It was a street party.
Porches have become mostly redundant in today’s life. Some people have closed them in to make a mud room or provide extra living space. Many are staged with cozy-looking chairs, but those chairs are mostly unused.
Porches make great sets for Halloween or Christmas decorating, and back in our more energetic days, when the kids were younger, we also decorated. In the fall, the need for pumpkins for our porch would mean a family outing to the pumpkin patch to get five pumpkins, one each for Mom, Dad, two kids and the dog—all pumpkins sized appropriately. Christmas would see me in the cold, leaning too far off the ladder or standing precariously on the railing to string lights because the porch couldn’t sit fallow during decorating season.
There are two major reasons why so many porches are unused. Home air conditioning is now prevalent. People no longer go outside to beat the heat these old uninsulated houses would generate and retain. Now, we run inside and closet ourselves in air-conditioned comfort.
My mother told me that many houses, back in her day, had backyard vegetable gardens, and every home had clotheslines. There wasn’t a deck, just a stoop to reach the clothesline. The backyards were functional instead of recreational. Kids would play on the streets, only having to avoid the odd Model T. or a pile of horse droppings. As backyards became more landscaped and decks and patios became prevalent, people migrated to the backyard, where kids were safer and life was more private.
We’re outliers. We love our front porch and sit out there as much as possible, as early in the spring as practical and deep into fall as we can stand. We have porch blankets. It’s very soothing to just watch the world go by. Sometimes lively discussions are generated, and sometimes we’ll go long periods without having to say anything. Our porch has seen our own kids play board games on it on a rainy day. Our dog sits out there and barks at select neighbours. And it’s witnessed thousands of kids over the years climb the four stairs and yell, “Trick or Treat.” It’s not just an extension of our house but also of us.
With cooler weather coming, the local porches will take on the trappings of winter. Snow shovels and hockey sticks will lean against the house, possibly a bag of salt, and firewood for those with fireplaces. But they will still sit empty of human life.
Joyce and her dog treats will go inside for the winter. As much as Murphy will miss his treats, I will miss my little exchanges with Joyce and look forward to spring and another season of porching.
Retired entrepreneur. I now revel in having the time to write about the small stories from my past, find the small stories in the present and look for the small stories in the future.
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