I grew up in an old farmhouse that was built when most houses had a front and back porch. Front porches back then were either open-air, like a veranda with railings, or screened in. The front porch was where you sat out on a lazy afternoon, trying to catch a cool breeze, or made out with your boyfriend on the porch swing, late on a sultry summer night. Only visitors and strangers came to knock on the door at the front porch.
The back porch was the work-horse porch. In fall it was the mudroom, with wet boots and shoes sprawled across the cement floor. In spring it became the starter greenhouse – flats of tiny seedlings laid across make-shift tables, the pungent smell of warm earth filling the room with hope of summer. In summer it became a cool respite from the warm house. But winter was when the porch truly became magical. It became the place where Santa came.
Early in December my sister and I would dutifully sit at the dining room table composing our letters to Santa. But how would Santa get our letters? “Not to worry,” my parents said, “we’ll just leave your letters to Santa on the back porch and HE WILL PICK THEM UP.” Wow, Santa coming all the way to our house to pick up our letters. It seemed realistic to a five-year-old. And how would Santa get in? Silly – nobody ever locked their back porch. We’d dutifully place our letters on the steps where Santa was sure to see them, and sure enough, they’d be gone the next day.
When Christmas Eve came, Santa returned to deliver our presents. We didn’t have a fireplace so naturally he would choose to leave them on the back porch. We’d fidget through Christmas Eve dinner and early evening, anxiously waiting for Santa to come. We listened hard, but never heard him arrive. Strangely enough though, Daddy always did. After dishes were washed and the paper read, and Walter Cronkite had said “that’s all there is,” he’d say “Yep, I think he’s here” go out on the back porch and return with his arms full of presents. We never questioned why we couldn’t hear Santa, and we never tried to hide out on the back porch to wait for him. Some things you just don’t question as a kid.
After Christmas, the back porch returned to its ordinary self, but each December, for many years to come, was transformed back to the magical place for Santa to come.
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