One of the best gifts my father-in-law ever gave Nancy and me was a swing for our front porch.
I had to put the thing together, sure. I had to find the chains to hang it and find the joists in the porch ceiling to hold the eye bolts, yes. And we, pretty sure it was Nancy, had to seal and stain it before we hung it up and gave it a test drive. But once all that had been accomplished, we had a marvelous place to unwind after a stressful day, to contemplate a sunset and to chat with other Pierre residents as they strolled past on balmy evenings.
The house we had for the longest time there in Pierre was on a corner lot. The house itself sat maybe four feet above street level, and the porch wrapped in a gentle arc around the south and west sides. Seven stately, sturdy pillars supported the roof, and a railing with ornate, difficult to paint balusters or pickets connected the pillars. The porch swing we received from Nancy’s dad was the finishing touch. When we sat in it on an evening, it emitted a most comfortable squeak each time it moved forward and back.
I had little trouble assembling the swing itself. It didn’t take much effort to put together the proper lengths of chain to hold the swing, either. Finding joists in the porch ceiling took forever. You’d think they’d be a uniform distance apart, wouldn’t you? Not these. Somehow, maybe because the porch curved, joists were everywhere and nowhere. By the time I had located two suitable joists, the porch ceiling was riddled with drill holes. Trial and error can work. It just takes awhile.
Before I got the drill holes patched and painted, Nancy’s dad stopped for a visit. We had the swing up, and that pleased him. He studied the porch ceiling a long while, nodding and humming to himself. Finally, he asked, “So did you have some kind of shootout with John Dillinger or Pretty Boy Floyd?’’ His belly jiggled as he laughed. Nancy laughed with him. I did, too. I’d become accustomed to my DIY projects making people laugh.
Good-natured ribbing aside, the swing gave us more pleasant hours than I could count. Usually, we sat out in the evening as the sun dropped into the trees over west. Sometimes on a lazy Saturday in autumn, we spent an hour or so on our front porch as a break from house and yard chores that needed to be done but maybe not urgently.
I don’t see as many front porches these days as I once did. Houses in some of the smaller towns still have them, as do some homes in older neighborhoods in cities. In a way, that’s sad. A front porch is kind of an invitation. A person swinging on a front porch draws comments from passing folks. Maybe it’s just a nod or a smile, but it’s a moment of human contact. And sometimes it’s a pause in a walk, to talk for a minute or two – not about politics, usually, but about weather, chances of rain, high school volleyball or cross country, things like that.
The house with the curved porch sat across the street from the governor’s residence. We used to time our Easter Sunday dinner so we’d be on the porch when the kids were hunting eggs on the big lawn across the way. Coming and going, folks would smile and wave to us.
When we decided to move from that house six or seven years ago, we had a few lookers. Most thought it was too old and would require too much upkeep. One young couple from Idaho fell in love with the place. They walked through with a real-estate agent in the afternoon, and they called and asked if they could stop back that evening. They sat on the swing as we talked.
Finally, the wife said, “The porch swing might be a deal-breaker.’’ They looked so comfortable, so much liked they belonged, that we readily agreed. The swing deserved a young family that would appreciate it.