Recently, Sue and I had a screened-in porch added to our home in Richmond Hill, Georgia. This was an addition that was an absolute must for both of us. Porches had been a part of my childhood, and regaining the delights of a bygone time have been a boon to my mental well being.
The memory of porches and screens starts with North Farms Road on Horse Mountain when I would open the front window in my bedroom and listen to the wonderful evening sounds of the countryside. Gazing across the meadow beyond the front yard of our house you could hear the lonely call of the Wipperwills beckoning a summer night to last forever. WhippoorWILL! WhippoorWILL! The plaintive call would echo through the field and provide a lasting memory to a little boy who would soon fall fast asleep to nature's song.
Horse Mountain was about as far away from the center of Florence that you could get, and it stirs memories of days in Anunciation Grammar school in the center of town. I distinctly remember one particularly beautiful spring day when I just had to leave school after noon recess and enjoy the day by walking home. What never occurred to me was that my second grade teacher might consider this an inappropriate thing to do without consulting her as to my intentions. Oh, but what a grand time it was walking the 3 miles home all the while reveling in the sweet smell of Spring. My parents took exception to my actions as well. As I strode up the road to the farmhouse I noticed two rather stern looking adults standing in the front door ready to pounce on their prey. From that point on what happened doesn't come to mind, although nothing more than a dressing down might have happened. No matter, life goes on.
By 1958 we moved to the very heart of the metropolis of Florence, at 18 Powell St. and a house that had a front porch. This porch had windows and screens and became my favorite area to while away the long days of summer. My parents had bought me a small transistor radio and it became my main source of entertainment, especially Red Sox games. As I listened I would score the game and root the Sox to victory. If one knows anything about the Red Sox of the early sixties, one knows the agony of defeat more than the thrill of victory. This hardly mattered to a youngster enjoying summer, baseball, and a porch.
My parents were compassionate people and there many times I was displaced from my normal bedroom in the main house to the porch for sleeping. They had an arrangement with Northampton State Hospital to allow people to stay in our home while attempting to transition to the community at large. Banishment to the porch was actually not bad when I could open the window in the evening and breath in the sounds and smells of summer. Winter was another matter altogether as the little porch room had no heat source. Bother me, it didn't. You'd always find the window open a little on cold nights even with a hint of snow in the air. I remember brushing away an inch, or two, of snow from my blanket upon waking to the bracing cold air.
In 1963 we moved to the big city, 23 Edwards Square, Northampton and a house with a screened-in back porch. Now I could walk to St. Michael's High School, Calvin theater, The Academy of Music and the general downtown area. I would be within walking distance of one of my favorite activities, accordion and guitar lessons with Joe Pizzitola at his studio on Main Street. Music had become an important part of my life and being with Mr. Pizzitola was always enjoyable. Occasionally, if I hadn't adequately prepared for my lesson, Joe would feign disappointment with my shortcomings, scolding me briefly and then tell me how good I was doing. His gentle laugh at my imperfections are a delight to remember, even fifty years on. Jim Hurley bought the studio in 1965 from Joe and I continued on as a student, and music teacher until I left for the Navy in 1968. Recollections of Wednesday nights with Jim at Joe's Pizza on Market Street conjure up a sight of pizza brimming over with melted chess, sausage and hamburger, along with good conversation that would make us friends to this day.
The most interesting aspect of the porch on Edwards Square were the train tracks which lay only about fifty feet from the porch itself. Trains would race by at all times of the day and night and would literally shake the house as they passed. If you weren't used to the noise and shaking it could give you quite a fright. I remember my brother Arthur visiting in 1964 and waking in the middle of the night, jumping out of bed, and generally being shocked to feel the house shake from a speeding train. I brought my future wife, Sue, to meet my parents in late 1972 and while sitting in the living room, suddenly start to feel the room shake as if an earthquake were about to strike. She hadn't been warned about the trains and was concerned when objects started to move across a coffee table. Perhaps a warning for her to consider whether she should marry into this family. This didn't deter her, however, as we've been together almost 38 years and counting.
There was one event that happened in August, 1967 that I remember very distinctly while on the porch listening to the Sox on the radio. The Los Angeles Angels were playing the Red Sox in Boston and on this particular Friday night Jack Hamilton was pitching for the Angels. Hamilton was a hard nosed fastball pitcher not afraid to play a little chin music to any player foolish enough to crowd the plate. Tony Conigliaro, of the Sox, was just such a player and I remember well the sound of the ball smacking into the side of Tony's face and the quiet falling over the stadium as medical personnel attended to him. The ball had broken his cheek bone, smashed his left eye socket and damaged, not only his career, but his life as well. He returned to the game over a year later, but was never the same, and died, still a young man, from a heart attack.
Porches hold many memories for me, both good and bad. As you can see I'm enjoying my latest porch. It gives a sense of peace, recollection and love for times and people long gone, but forever in my thoughts.
Life, and porches--live and enjoy them.