I wrote this piece in October 2011 while my 3rd grade class composed their own stories about a favorite place. A few times each year our district requires an “on demand” writing sample so we can score their writing with a rubric – or list of qualities we wish to see present in their writing. So we all chose and wrote about one of our favorite places.
This piece of writing is not finished. “My Mom’s Porch” means something different to me now that she has passed on. This writing is a time capsule, a window into thoughts of another time.
A couple of weeks from now I’ll visit my mother’s home, and my mom’s porch, one final time, with my brother Dan and two of my sisters, Ruthie and Anne. We’ll settle things with some banks, meet with the realtor, and likely finish up some painting and cleaning. We’ll probably give her last few remaining possessions away and just enjoy time in each other’s company.
We’ll spread her ashes.
It will be the last time we meet together in that beautiful house, the final time we’ll laugh, and perhaps cry a little, on my mom’s porch.
This piece ends without proper closure. Just like life.
My Mom’s Porch
One of my favorite places of all is my mom’s back porch. It is a simple structure in a magical place. The floor is made of two-by-fours with enough space between to see the deck below. Behind are the wooden walls of the house and large glass sliding door. Ahead is a large screen. Beyond is the canopy of mixed hardwood trees of the North Carolina mountains. Beyond that is a beautiful, clear mountain lake with sun sparkling off its surface or the reflection of clouds or a shimmering moon.
A few days ago, when I awoke there on the living room couch, it was still dark and cold. I sat on that porch alone, with a cup of strong black coffee, while the morning light eased across the low gray clouds. The small lake below was covered with fog, which rolled over the dam as a slow motion liquid into the river valley below.
A great blue heron emerged from that low hanging cloud; a prehistoric ghost, silently pulling feathery wisps of fog behind it. It was a scene so peaceful, so serene and real that I wish I could have shared it with someone. But then again, maybe those few moments alone on that old porch are an important memory because I was alone. My mom would be awake soon. I would tell her about it. She would appreciate it.
The company kept on that old porch is also what makes it one of my favorite places. My mom is my best friend. The time we share there also includes other family members, but the time spent with my mom alone is among the most precious moments in my life. On that porch we speak tenderly of the past and loved ones who have died. On that porch we laugh until our faces hurt and we gasp for breath. On that porch, late at night, lit by a single candle flame, with wine glasses between us, we cry and hold hands and wonder about the future and count ourselves lucky to still appreciate each other’s company.
I never spend enough time on that old porch. It slants down – away from the house. That has always bugged my mom. But she is finally convinced that it was built that way on purpose. There are always a few spider webs in the corners. But I don’t mind. They never bothered me. I sort of like spiders. There is a glass table on that porch and some outdoor chairs. The screen doors are a little uneven due to the slanting floor. There are some two-by-fours stacked under them to keep out the chipmunks and other creatures. I remember when there were nesting birds in there.
The most important people in my life have spent time together on that old porch. My own Devin and Colin and Heidi, my step-dad, Big Jim Burns, my brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews – have often hung out on that old porch making each other laugh, one upping each other’s wise cracks, sipping wine and smirking, poking fun and getting serious. We relive the old days when we were young and our folks were young. We share stories of the crazy people we used to know and all of the ridiculous things we got away with. My mom smiles and is forgiving of us all. What else can she do?
We’ve shared many meals on that porch. Big Jim’s famous goulash, Heidi’s grilled chicken salad, my pasta. My mom was never crazy about cooking, so often it is sandwiches and salad and lots of fresh fruit. But it isn’t the food that makes these meals among the best ever. It is the company. And it isn’t just the people. We share that tree-top porch with birds and raccoons and squirrels.
In the fall that porch is nestled into brilliant colors that can dazzle you and take your breath away. When the leaves have fallen you can see the lake with occasional ripples from surfacing bass, or trout, or bream. In the winter there is often snow and ice glazed branches and sun on that sparkling lake. In the summer the light on that porch is just… so… green. My folks often refer to their home as a tree house. And it is.
When we are on that porch we speak the truth in unguarded words. There is such honesty and love there that it hurts my heart and stings my eyes to think about it. We talk politics and religion and news and all of the topics you don’t touch in polite company. We are brash – we tease and make fun and share everything that is in our hearts and on our minds. On that porch there is no pretense, few filters between us and what we really mean to say.
Perhaps the most important part of being on that porch is the loving companionable silence between the words, the time we spend together gazing out at that natural beauty, as we share that time, that space, that air…
When my mom and I said good bye to that old porch for that last time, just before she got on the plane with my brother Dan that took her from her beautiful tree house in North Carolina to New Mexico and her last few weeks - we held each other. There was nothing we could say. We looked out through the trees and felt the beauty and magic of that place.
But she was strong. Much stronger than me.
There will always be special places in our lives, right? Places where we spend precious time with people we love. But that porch, in those mountains, will remain with me forever.