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Before social media, there was the front porch

A porch connected one family to their neighborhood and the world.

Gracia Lam

It was the height of the real estate bubble, and my husband and I were priced out of the town where we were renting. We saw a listing in a neighboring community and put in the winning bid on an adorable Cape. Overpriced, yes, in a neighborhood with “a lot of pickup trucks,” as my father noted, but it was ours. It was home.

The house was on a long, narrow lot, and the houses on either side were too close for comfort. It didn’t have a garage or any bells and whistles, but it did have something unique, something that none of the other houses on the street had: a glorious farmer’s porch straight across the front. I instantly fell in love.


We furnished it with two tattered wicker rocking chairs (that I found for free) and two wooden rockers purchased from an unfinished furniture store, all painted a dark grayish green. We eventually put red cushions on the rockers, mounted a porch swing, and, when our babies started to come, added a tiny child’s rocker.

The porch had such an inviting quality that everyone who passed by was drawn to come up and rock for a while. A chance to meet and get caught up on the goings-on of their lives. My porch essentially introduced me to my neighbors and helped to forge deep bonds that remain today.

In the early days, I noticed an older couple who took a nightly walk and waved to me on the porch. Eventually they would end their walk by coming up to chat and rock. I learned that they raised four daughters a few houses down, were French Canadian, and loved Christmas. When my boys were born, they became like grandparents. She made goodies and even knitted blue-and-white blankets for them. One night she arrived on the porch in tears to tell me that they just couldn’t keep up the rigors of homeownership any longer and were moving into an apartment. She and I stood, both in our pajamas, and cried in each other’s arms. We promised to stay in touch, which we did until their deaths several years later.


One evening, I sat with another devastated neighbor, who shared that her marriage was indeed ending. I deployed the white wine, tissues, and a listening ear; sometimes porch talk is just as good as therapy. Now our porch visits are full of laughter and focus on the wonderful man who has brought her the happiness that she deserves. There are no more tears.

The porch is where I sought refuge on September 11, 2001, and lit a candle. My next-door neighbor was on her front stoop doing the same. We just looked at each other in silence, bonded by a glance, shaking our heads, speechless that our world had forever changed. Today our boys are inseparable, crossing back and forth between houses so often that we joke about digging a tunnel to connect them.

As a frustrated young mom I’d often run to the porch, plop into a rocker, and rock and rock and rock as the boys toddled to the screen door to make sure I was still there. My boys are older now, and I’ve ended many days sitting out there in the dark with them packed like sardines on the swing as they opened up about their thoughts, fears, and hopes. The wood posts bear messy pencil scratches that lovingly mark their heights as they’ve grown.


There’s something about this porch that unites us all. It’s still a place to chat, bond, laugh, and cry. It’s the venue that shaped relationships not only within my family, but also with neighbors who are now dear friends. It’s where it all began.

Laura Richards is a freelance writer in Framingham. Send comments to

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