My childhood memory is the porch of my aunt’s house, the common long, narrow space that served as the house’s entrance filled with a variety of seating that had been around for a very long time. At the far end of that space there were a couple of chairs that had made it through the depression, the time when anything past fixing was saved regardless, so as a kid on visiting Sundays, when the porch filled up with family and friends, I was going to end plopped on angular, poking springs. Anything was worth it to get to listen in to the stories told and the laughter shared. My favorite seat was the swing settee piled with layers of my aunt’s multicolored, crocheted afgans, a softer seat than the cold metal frame underneath. This Sun porch meant long, slow conversations as the afternoon sun’s light and warmth and my beloved aunt’s talk filled the space.
My second sun porch recall is sitting in the warmth of a sun porch in Holland, VT twenty years later. I was visiting an older friend and down-the-road neighbor, Mildred Goodall who was in her 90’s and still active, still driving, still doing for others in that strong, indomitable New England farm woman way. The truth of her driving was measurable by the wide berth town residents gave her recognizable car. Things like that seemed a naturally easy accommodation in such a tiny rural, community, especially for a woman who had earned her place through a lifetime of good deeds through tough times. It was a February afternoon and her birthday, and the rural New England version of party where a succession of neighbors, family, and friends dropped by—long enough for a warm beverage and short enough so as not to be a nuisance . Her sun porch was a plain, unadorned front of the house afterthought, a wind protective space with those old time cheapish, aluminum framed, double hung windows, a long, narrow, utilitarian space with sparsely straight backed chairs and no afgans but being able to sit in the warmth of the winter’s sun in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont in the dead of winter to was a coveted experience, especially in the company of a woman who knew how to thread years of stories and knowledge in and out of her conversation.
In all the years since then I had not lived in a house with a sun porch, fancy or plain. Unheated sun porches no longer matched transitioning architectures or lifestyles. They were an unaffordable, unusable space, blocked off as soon as the cold days of late Fall moved in.
The house where I now live has a glorious sun porch but the house was built in the late 1970’s before radiant heat or zoned heating systems so it, too, is unheated, but the windows are big and face south-south east (the cardinal necessity of all sun porches) which allows the porch to zoom into balmy temperature ranges in the Fall and Spring. How lovely to bask in sun’s warmth after the first freeze, and by early afternoon I was setting up a jigsaw puzzle in a 78 degree space. To be able to get back to working on that puzzle I will have to bide my time, holding out for other days with morning sun breaking early over the ocean without the wind that moves the cold in the porch’s direction. It will probably take a long time to finish the puzzle, but I’ll wait it out. Puzzles have a way of clearing thoughts, making a meditative space with only the awareness of colors and shapes filling the mind. I never understood how my mother could waste so much time on such a silly pursuit until I happened across a nice image on the box of a puzzle in the cheapo do-dad store.
My mother had kept quiet about the amazing sense of peace and solace that working on a puzzle brings. She also did not have sun porch warmth, the added blessing I now wish I could share.