The Passing Scene

Front porches, steps, "stoops" alternative to seeing a psychologist.

By Arthur H. Gunther



While very few Rocklanders of the 1940s and ‘50s -- in a rural county north of New York City -- used the word “stoop,” we understood what it was like to sit on porch steps. As in Gotham, where such was a major past time as well as educational and social opportunity, more than a neighborly nod was to be had.

My grandfather met his wife in 1920, sitting on his steps, across from the lady who would become my grandmother. In Spring Valley, where I largely grew up, the same couple had a house at 14 Ternure Ave. that included a small side porch, and every grandchild sat for a photograph. It was one of the places where I could day-dream.

In Hillcrest, my mother had conversation with her neighbor Irene almost every day in good weather, choosing the front steps to pass an hour or two. Irene was from Manhattan, and she told us how on hot summer nights the entire neighborhood would be out on their “stoops” to get some air but also to connect. A few feet away, their children would be bouncing a ball or jumping rope, and every parent was also the parent of each child in the take-care-of-each-other-neighborhood.

Some of that passed to the suburbs, too, as Gothamites moved out, though not every house had front steps, nor were the homes as close together, and neighborhoods were more anonymous. Eventually, any front step-sitting gave way to the backyard patios of the later 1950s and then the decks of the 1970s and now the outside “rooms” of 2012, with huge barbecues, fire pits, hard and soft landscaping and water features, almost oases apart from the world. 

In an earlier Rockland, most homes had front porches, and swings on them. That was where grandmothers knitted, couples dated and everyone waited for the mailman. Those porches and their steps became observation posts for the passing scene, and as with the stoops of the cities, places to think things through or to share confidences over worries and fears, joys and dreams.  Both past times provided emotional and social reinforcement and learning experiences.

In a world that seems more isolated and which since 2001 appears on edge, perhaps we could do with a few more porches, steps and stoops and some neighborly visits.

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Dan Seidel June 27, 2012 at 01:44 PM
stoop ball anyone?
art gunther III June 27, 2012 at 01:55 PM
Bruce, when I was Editorial Page Editor at The Journal-News, ( a 20-year stint in my 42 seasons there), I deliberately wrote about uncivilized conduct at public meetings, how some motorists would not give way to volunteer firefighters and other rude behavior, etc. When online, anonymous postings began for newspapers and other information media, I opposed that, principally because of the nasty, even hateful responses. Happy to see that names are now required, though the responses may still be utterly rude and off the mark. This seems to be the case in other parts of the US, too.
William Demarest June 27, 2012 at 02:42 PM
I'm happy to say that the front porch is still a place for neighbors to meet up in Nyack. It's not quite the same as the stoop back in Queens when I was a kid, but it does just fine! The only problem is it seems there is more and more truck traffic locally, making conversations difficult as the big rigs rumble by and rip up the streets.
Cadeyrn June 28, 2012 at 12:55 PM
A few more porches for sure. In fact, that might just be the ticket to reclaiming neighborhoods and bringing back street play and the loads of activities that have vanished especially for children. Seldom do you see kids playing ball or skipping' rope or even riding bikes. All activities for kids seem adult-directed and almost always beyond the immediate neighborhood. We've robbed youngsters of a lot of first-rate interactive time where kids can learn social skills, polish their athleticism and the where-with-all to simply navigate life on a day-to-day basis. You learn a lot thru street play ... a lot about truth, friendship, fair play and good ol' competition. You also learn humility ... and how to say you're sorry. And a kid can find out what they're good at ... and what they're not so good at. But most of all, those kids learn to be creative and independent. And they learn to solve all sorts of problems ... from bullying to poor sportsmanship ... all by themselves ... without parents hovering like helicopters and wrecking a perfect great time.
art gunther III June 28, 2012 at 03:17 PM
Cadeyrn has made an eloquent case for porch-sitting 'education.'


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