On the mystery of porches and alligators


Porches hold a certain nostalgia and mystery for me, probably because I grew up in old houses fronted by large porches. The house that we lived in for most of my childhood had a huge wraparound porch with large arches and columns. The space between each column was the perfect size for sitting on to read. On the hot, lazy days of summer, we spent hours playing in the shade of the porch.

My friend, Maggie, reminded me recently that she wished we could sit on the porch swing and play alligator like we did when we were kids. Up popped my nostalgic bent. The idea was that the person who was it had to lie underneath the swing and everyone else sat or stood on the swing, while the alligator tried to nab someone’s foot or leg. I have no idea who created that game. Probably one of my brothers.

Mother taught piano lessons after school, so we were often relegated to the porch to keep the house quiet. Unfortunately for her, there was a small window that looked into the piano room from the porch so we spent most of our time annoying her by trying to distract whatever friend was taking a lesson.

Sometime during my early teens, my parents decided to enclose the porch to create an office for Dad. Big mistake. Don’t tell my mom. She probably realized it later on. We really missed that porch. All that remained was what city folk call a “stoop”. Not the same as a porch.

So when I got married, my first two houses had nice sized porches on which our kids often played. The white wicker swing on which we played the alligator game hung on both of those porches. I remember the day Maggie and I taught our four daughters (her two and my two) to play the alligator game.

Our third (and current) house, though, lacks a real porch. The front porch has enough room for one wooden slat chair and one large, pesky queen of a cat. It was replaced about 15 years ago after my left leg went through a weak spot, causing serious injury to the tendon (in the leg, not the porch). The back porch was even smaller and in recent years, sadly in need of serious repair (i.e. replacement). In fact, last summer we hung a “do not use” sign across it.

So there I was minding my own business in the hospital, 120 miles from home, when my wise friend, Mary Ann, called to chat. Had I talked to Jeff Laing about replacing the porch? I had, but that was months ago and long before he got busy with more important summer projects. She mumbled something about him working in her neighborhood, so she’d track him down and mention it for me.

This is small town at its best. A few days later, my husband called to say that he was trying to solve a mystery. He’d returned home from work to find a new porch had been installed on our back patio. He had his suspects, since he’d seen a few of Jeff’s workers strolling around our back yard earlier in the day.

So now there is a beautiful wooden porch on the back patio. Each time I use it, I think of that little boy I used to babysit for…now a contractor who stands about a foot taller than me and has a huge heart. 

There’s still no room for a swing on either of our porches. Sorry Mags. But that’s not to say there couldn’t be a bigger porch added to the front. Or maybe that’s for the next house. After all, there are a lot of kids in this neighborhood — including my favorite little Pannabecker cousins — who need to learn the family alligator game.

In the meantime, Jeff, thanks for the surprise.

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One response to “On the mystery of porches and alligators

  1. ah, Mary! Such memories of old porches. We spend our summers in Bay View MI which is a Chautauqua community of victorian houses – most of which have lovely porches. This area is cool enough most days for porch-sitting too – and the community stays in contact through walks past porches and their rocking, gliding inhabitants.
    Thanks for the nostalgia! And then,,,,,, what exactly IS the Alligator game?
    I have heard of fraternity post tests (will I fit through between those posts yet this year?) and of other great games played in and through those posts and columnns – but never of the Alligator game.
    Enjoy those porch hours – they are the essence of summertime!
    Jean

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