The Front Porch by Tracei Willis
After conceiving seven sons and seven daughters, my grandparents decided to undergo a bit of a separation. My granddaddy moved down into the basement and my grandma stayed upstairs in the main house. No bitter animosity, no ill feelings or angst, just in need of time and spaceapart, in order to appreciate time and space together. On breezy summer evenings, Nellie and Sessor Willis would meet on the front porch for an evening date to sit a spell, rock a while, and talk until the cows came on home. They would discuss the four daughters living in New York, Ray being drafted into the Army, and that damn oldest boy, Don and how he was going to lose Bertha, if he didn’t start treating her right. As their children walked out the front door, across the front porch, down the stairs, and out into the world… most returned with husbands or wives, and grandbabies squared. If that porch could tell a story, you would want to pull up a chair and just listen.
The porch would tell you about the incident that happened in its far left corner. Right over there is a shimmering memory of an 8 year old Andrew and a 6 year old King sampling the pinch of snuff they had pilfered from their great-grandmother, Ma’y Jane Avery’s tobacco can. Look a little closer–do you see the tinge of green flush over King’s face–just before his breakfast revisited the side rail of the porch? It would also tell you about Faye accidently dropping Paul from the top of the front porch to the bottom —but don’t tell, because Faye is still hoping that Mother doesn’t know. Paul’s okay though, and after the drop, he continued to take running leaps from the top to bottom, by passing the stairs, everytime.The porch would tell you about all the childhood troubles it’s seen–like flowers picked with bumble bees still inside, the mysterious way jacks ended up in noses, 1,782 scrapped knees, unfulfilled dandelion wishes, broken daisy necklaces, pushes, shoves, miscalculated backwards flips, smokes from a stolen cigarette, clandestine meetings with boyfriends under the steps, smooches snuck in the shadows, and “oooooo-I-ma-tell-mama-‘s”! It would recount games between naive city cousins and skillful country cousins of hide and go-seek, freeze tag, red light-green light, and “Red Rover, Red Rover send anybody but June Bug right over!” The porch would tell you about the bushels of butter beans and purple hull peas shelled by little girls swinging their legs between the rails, and “accidently” letting unshelled beans and peas fall to the ground to feed the birds. The porch would recall the talent shows (with considerable lack of talent), hosted by Rubye Lee, with performances by youngest members of the 14, and Anita, Donna, Kathy, and Andrea—the four oldest grandchildren.
The porch would show you snapshots captured in time of Sessor watching the sunrise, Nellie circa 1965 wearing white gloves Jackie Kennedy-style, Peasie on a tricycle taking her baby doll for a ride… Nellie holding grandbaby after grandbaby, Sessor’s funeral procession, The 14-conducting significant family meetings, first wives bursting with Willis pride, husbands in ties, second wives trying to fit in, grown up grandchildren planning a family reunion and then Nellie’s funeral 90 dayslater.