As a child of the 1950s, I did not go on arranged play dates or spend time at arcades or enrichment classes. Instead, with the arrival of sunshine and warm weather, I transformed from an “under the blanket” reader into a front porch kid.
Our Downlook Street house had — in my biased opinion — the best front porch in Stanton Heights, offering me the ideal summer playground setting.
It allowed me to go outside and feel independent while also knowing that Ma, Dad and Grandma were only steps away behind the screen door. It gave me refuge from “three strikes — you’re out” kickball games or another scraped knee caused by struggling attempts to master a two-wheeler.
It was on the front porch that I developed my minimal artistic skills by drawing with colored chalk on the cement floor. I advanced my ability as a jacks player there, which is also where I embarked upon my journey to trifocals by reading long after the sun began to set.
When closed, the striped awnings on either side of the porch protected me from the wind and rain; when open, they provided me with a view of my neighbors.
The lavender-trimmed house on the left, separated from our house by a few inches of grass, seemed to shake with laughter as parents, children, extended family and dogs ran in and out.
The house on the right, more distant both geographically and symbolically, seemed to sag with sadness. The childless couple there rarely socialized; the husband did not even nod to Dad as the two mowed their lawns on a Sunday morning, and the wife never came to the fence that separated the backyards to share coffee and gossip with Ma as they hung up sheets to dry.
As a youngster, I created stories in which these people were the villains. As a teenager, I saw them as they were: survivors of the Holocaust who were doing their best to cope and survive.
The front porch had two rocking chairs with pads faded by the sun and always slightly damp from the rain. I would sit on Grandma’s lap on one of the two rocking chairs and listen to her stories of the “good ol’ days” growing up in New Kensington and working at Miller’s Shoes, her family’s store. I would cuddle with Dad in the other rocking chair and discuss our beloved Pirates or my desperate need for a new doll.
In one corner of the front porch stood a card table that Ma kept clean with a fitted plastic cover for me and my friends to play Sorry, Parcheesi and Chinese Checkers. If no one was around, I would use the colorful checkers marbles to create kaleidoscope-like designs.
The front porch provided a perfect view of the tree Dad had planted when he and Ma bought the house in 1952. I would sit on the front porch and imagine I could see the tree growing with me.
Food was an integral part of the front porch, including the Popsicles made of frozen juice or Kool-Aid, and sandwiches with potato chips placed between the egg salad and white bread to give it a crunchy feel.
The ice cream truck brought cones, though inevitably I lost part of the cone to the cement floor of the porch, causing Ma to frantically grab the hose in order to avoid invasion from a hungry family of ants.
The front porch was also for devouring a traditional Sunday breakfast of bagels and lox and smoked fish that Dad purchased on Mellon Street in the East End. Once done cleaning up from breakfast, Dad would join me on the porch to read the Sunday comics and cut paper dolls from the comic page.
Last December, Dad and I took a drive through Stanton Heights to see the holiday decorations and lights. Instead of going the direct route up Stanton Avenue past Sunnyside School, we went the back way past the old shopping center and through the winding streets of the “new” side of the neighborhood.
When we arrived on Downlook, we parked the car and stared at our house. It was dark except for the porch light — one yellow light that illuminated the front porch and the memories that have traveled with me, and comforted me, over the decades.
Ronna L. Edelstein, a teacher living in Oakland, may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. The PG Portfolio welcomes “Summer Memories” submissions and other reader essays. Send your writing to email@example.com; or by mail to Portfolio, Post-Gazette, 34 Blvd. of the Allies, Pittsburgh PA 15222. Portfolio editor Gary Rotstein may be reached at 412-263-1255.