Front Porches

by Harry T. Roman


In Newark, a front porch was a vital part of your neighborhood. It was where you sat on humid summer evenings. Some houses had two-one atop the other, for the upstairs tenants in two family houses. These classic homes made up many a tree-lined neighborhood in every ward of the city. Often landlords and tenants shared a porch for the evening, reminiscing and getting to know each other, building bonds.

It was a time when many families stayed in their apartments for decades, considering their landlord part of extended family. It was not unusual for newlyweds to stop by and visit their old landlords, even after their own families had moved out to the suburbs, fulfilling a life-long dream to own their own home. That’s just the way it was.

You grow up sharing a porch with folks, talking into the night, you get to know and love them. You concentrate more on your similarities, rather than your differences. It was more social back then, lots more hugging and caring.

Porches were gathering places for neighborhood gossip, the events of the day, sports talk and often an impromptu musical happening. Accordion, guitar, and mandolin strains kept families and friends singing, and grandparents wiping tears from their eyes.

If you played ball in the streets like we did, those porches were the cheering sections and the second floor ones were the upper decks at imagined Yankee Stadium. In cases of close calls, the front porches officiated the play. Their judging was final. And if you got thirsty, you asked permission to have a drink from the nearest ever-present garden hose. That is how you slaked your thirst on a hot summer night of stickball or boxball. Simple rules, simple times.

If it was really one of those oppressive summer nights, everyone got a quick sprinkle shower after the game, courtesy of one the fans in the stands.

When it rained, you played on a neighbor’s front porch with their kids. It was the proverbial safe port in a storm, always a haven in sudden summer squalls.

If you had a clear view of Newark Schools Stadium like I did, on the 4th of July, you could watch fireworks from the comfort of your front porch-- even smell the explosion smoke as it eventually wafted down your street.

Some folks closed their porches in so they could have a bit more privacy, but this only seemed to happen on the upper ones. The first floor porch was always the main gathering point for the house, the pressroom and communications center.

In my old neighborhood on North 4th Street, the two family houses were close enough together that you could have conversations quite easily between adjacent porches. That was fairly standard practice. No one had driveways. We all parked on the street. Just an alleyway divided homes. It was easy to talk to neighbors.

At dusk a candle or maybe a mosquito punk would be lit, giving the houses a warm glow. Maybe a radio was tuned to a Yankee or Dodger game, or some music. The houses seemed to live and breathe, like their occupants.

As the seasons changed, so did the décor, Christmas always being the best with lots of lights and maybe a few Disney or other seasonal characters aglow. I remember straw men at Halloween as well as some other scary goblins and ghosts; and a witch or two.

The 4th of July brought flags, banners, and pennants; and often fireworks sprouting from both lower and upper porches.

The front porch was also a place to sit and talk with your best girl or guy, being on display at it came to be called, showing off your beau. Sneaking kisses as dusk came calling. Of course mom would be peeking from the living room window! Or as one of my girlfriend’s mom’s used to say to us….

”Let’s hear some whistling and clapping out there!!!”

Curses…..foiled again.

How can you build homes today without usable front porches? How can folks who own the older homes not use theirs like we did? It don’t seem right. We need more front porches….. and time to sit out on them…..with the kids….. and our neighbors. We need to care again about each other.

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