A porch full of memories

Olivia Fowler

Olivia Fowler

On The Way

By Olivia Fowler

The new Southern Living just arrived, and a story in it took me straight back to the front porch of Grandmama’s house in summer, where we often sat after supper.

The kitchen would be cleaned up, and Mama and Grandmama would be sitting in porch rockers with glasses of iced tea. They’d talk and rock. We’d be savoring the last moments outside before bedtime. In summer we seldom took baths at night. We’d usually been swimming in the river before supper. The only thing Mama did before we went to bed was make sure we’d brushed our teeth. We’d put on our pajamas, and then she’d wipe the bottom of our feet off with a damp washcloth before tucking us in for the night.

On the front porch before bedtime came, I’d sometimes lie in the porch swing and listen to their voices, talking, telling stories, laughing and sometimes singing. Mama sang to us, and not just at bedtime. I never really thought about it, but we all knew the words to lots of songs. Some were really old ones.

We’d sing “The Old Grey Goose is Dead,” “Fox Went Out,” “Froggy Went a Courting,” “Frankie and Johnny Were Lovers,” “The Abba Dabba Honeymoon,” “Down in the Valley,” and so many more.

When we went on trips, we’d sing in the car.

Sometimes at bedtime she would first read to us, and then sing. One of her standards was an old song, “String beans and Irish potatoes, roast beef and stewed tomatoes, Honey Babe I love you just the same. If you don’t love me I’ll go crazy, Take the gun and shoot old Daisy, Honey Babe, I’ll love you just the same.”

I don’t know where all the songs came from, but they were an essential part of our lives. It was a great legacy to give us, and something we passed to our own children.

She especially loved the music popular before and during World War II. She’d tell us all about the big bands and sing some of their hits. She’d also describe the dances she and her cousin Lilly attended and the beautiful dresses they wore.

It was a time when girls wore long gowns with a flare of material near the ankles. They owned dancing shoes, and the young men, and sometimes old ones, would line up to dance with Mama and Lilly. She said that they would often have four to five different partners for one dance, as they’d cut in with a tap on the shoulder.

She said one night two boys who were vying for Lilly’s approval cut in on each other so many times that they were barred from the floor. The chaperones were concerned that the rivalry might grow more heated, and Lilly was not enjoying their too obvious attentions.

Mama said that on weekends when they didn’t go to dances a group would gather at Aunt Liv’s house and crowd around the piano. Someone would always play and sing, and they’d dance until the pictures rattled on the walls.

Lilly’s baby brother, Shep, would sleep through the whole thing.

One of their suitors appeared one night with his guitar and serenaded them from beneath their windows. Uncle Sam raised the window and emptied a pitcher of water on their swain’s head. He was ready for bed and had no sympathy for young love.

Mama could entertain us for hours with tales of their shenanigans. I can still visualize her twirling around the kitchen reenacting scenes from her glamour days, laughing and full of life.