28 July 2005

living on the porch

That's the way it's done here, and has been done for over a century. Hundreds of houses, each with a spacious street-facing porch, loaded with rockers, tables, and toys. Ours is shady in the morning, so I take my coffee out there, drinking it from the antique pink cup and saucer set that came with the house when my parents bought it almost 20 years ago.

Butterflies wind around the oak limbs as the dappled sunshine makes its way down the hill. The kids at the bottom of the hill are always out, on stilts, pogo sticks, or with their bikes whirring loudly, playing cards wound through the spokes. I used to be one of those kids, happy to live on the only big hill in the place, happier still when I could whizz down the hill into the huge puddle that developed after rainstorms. The puddle is gone, now that the drain works properly, and a speed bump ruins the perfect run from the top of the hill, but the kids still spin by the house daily. On the neighboring porches, people visit, drinking lemonade, reading the paper with their feet up on the railings. These houses have no insulation or air conditioning, so the coolest place is often out on the porch in the path of the breezes off the nearby sea.

In July, the tourist season is at its peak, with herds of baby strollers and New York City yuppies doing the required Cottage City tour. Some think that it's some kind of Disneyland setup, where the houses are part of a fabricated attraction, and more than once a homeowner has come home to discover tourists having their picture taken on the porch. Ours is unassuming enough that this doesn't happen often, and it's tucked away at the far reaches of the houses where visitors are fewer.

Come evening, people retreat into their cottages, leaving the front doors open to keep the air flowing, which allows a glimpse through to the kitchens in the back. These houses are crammed with Victorian furniture and all have the same layout- living room in the front, dining room in the middle, kitchen in the back. The discarded shoes and bikes of the kids sprinkle around the houses, and books and games lie abandoned in the middle rooms during dinner. There's always more people in the houses than seem to be able to fit, but that's how it's been since the beginning.

This place isn't much for modern technology and high-class entertainment, so sometimes when the weather at night is exciting, people appear on the porch together again to watch. Last weekend we had a fantastic lightning storm, and all the way up and down the street, I could see the silhouettes of the neighbors out, their murmered conversations floating over the thunder.

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