WE SOCIAL-DISTANCED dinner on the back porch with Judith and Robert last week. A bowl of taco chips and queso for them, sitting on the sofa, another for us, sitting in wicker chairs on the other side of the ottoman that serves as the coffee table. No communal dipping. They contributed the queso and a pitcher of margaritas, trundling them over in their bike baskets. (I provided the enchiladas, guacamole and flan for dessert).
Both are architects, and artists, always curious about the making of this and that. In this case the white-on-white trapunto-stitched quilt I use to cover the ratty sofa cushions. Dripping queso from a chip dangling from the fingers of her right hand, the fingers of her left hand toying with the heavily knotted surface, Judith lifted the scalloped border to examine the back stitching.
“Is this handmade?” she asked, queso wobbling perilously from the chip.
“Yes,” I said. “Lovely, isn’t it?”
“You just throw it on the sofa?” She sounded a little alarmed.
“I do,” I said. “Where would you suggest I put it, a closet?”
When I was a kid, my friend Cece’s mom roped off the living room. It was a gold rope, of course, and the drapes were always drawn. Sometimes we’d stand outside the ropes and gaze in, as if viewing the Goldberg Wing of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
One night, her parents went out, and Cece and I raided the liquor cabinet, getting tipsy on sugary Framboise. Then! We took down the rope and tiptoed into the living room, gingerly bouncing on the down-cushioned sofa.
My GOD it was thrilling, unforgettable. So unforgettable was it that I’ve never forgotten, and, despite being 12, I knew how ridiculous it was.
I think here of Aunt Dorothy, a woman my family visited with maybe once a year, whose hair was always rolled up in those pink sponge rollers, the ones with the attached clips—remember them? If our visit wasn’t special enough to unfurl her curls, what was? I saw a recent photo of her, in a nursing home. Her hair, finally on view, is nearly shorn and white. Bent over a table, she’s “making beautiful toilet paper pumpkins,” the photo caption says. That last is neither here nor there—but save me!
I was lucky to have grown up around antiques and beautiful furniture, the ancestral business, to be hoity-toity about it. We were expected to be careful around a few things, but mainly what we had was there to be used and enjoyed.
Baby and I were discussing this the other day, I complaining that My Prince, her father, embalms everything on the porch in black plastic tarps at a hint of rain—which around here is fairly frequent. The furniture is not just covered, it’s piled up to prevent the tarps from shifting. As this is a covered porch, only torrential rains would do more than dampen the cushions.
I can’t blame my boy: He didn’t grow up with a surplus of luxury. Nice things were for special occasions. The opposite of me. If the cushions get soaked? They dry! If they get ruined, so what? Everything can be replaced—including trapunto-stitched quilts.
When the porch furniture is heaped and draped, where does one carelessly flop down to read, eat chips out of the bag, doze off to the drone of cicadas, get stoned on the scent of jasmine, which tendrils so deliciously about one’s nose in humid heat?
This is a need that escapes The Prince, despite nearly 40 years of my dramatic angsting.*
A porch is meant to be casual, inviting, carefree. The gymnastics involved in unwrapping it all are so exhausting that too often I end up just sitting on the steps leading down to the garden. Not a bad perch—the view is fine—but it’s a little hard on the rump bones.
“Never, not me,” said Baby, words that caressed my motherly ears. Her screened porch is filled with white wicker and cushions striped and patterned in navy blue and white. “This wicker gets misted regularly by rain drifting in and we never cover it,” she said. “It would curl Daddy’s toes to hear me say it, but when this stuff falls apart, we’ll just replace it. Are we taking it for granted? Yep. Is it worth it? Yep.”
Just as it should be, I think. A place of ease, of pretty things well enjoyed, of sweet scents and bird song—a welcome place to weather a monsoon, or a pandemic.
If ever one needed such a place, one needs it now.
*Not a word, but should be.
LittleBird “Stephanie Gardens” probably gardens just so she’ll have something interesting to look at when she’s flopped out on the back porch.