View from a Port William porch


Pat Haley - Contributing columnist



Memories are embedded in our minds, but people and places change.

Someone once said, “Attempting to relive childhood memories is an exercise doomed to failure, but the nostalgic drive within us most often wins out.”

“You can’t go back home to your family, back home to your childhood, back home to the old things which once seemed everlasting, but which are changing all the time, back home to the escapes of time and memory,” novelist Thomas Wolfe wrote.

Can we go home again?

Maybe not — but I’m going to give it a good try at the Port William Heritage Days on June 15-16.

According to the announcements, there will be breakfast at the United Methodist Church, community yard sales, fishing derby, car show, game booths, book signings, carriage rides, and musical entertainment, featuring the Hathaways, and Reyna and Dana, an acoustic duo.

There will even be a parade on Sunday, winding through the village streets.

The Haley family moved from Port William 56 years ago, ending a 100-year bond that began when our great-grandfather, John Haley, bought a farm and settled in the area after leaving County Cork, Ireland — knowing he would never to return to his family and native home again.

I know in my mind I can’t truly go home again. I realize that those days in the small town are gone. It is a different world today.

But we will walk past the community water pump, and I will tell Brenda the story how I stopped on hot summer days for a drink of water from the pump across from the old post office, and visualize the old tin cup hanging from the pump handle that everyone in town used at one time or another.

We will walk across the bridge and I will recount the times we went fishing, swam in the muddy water, or ice skated on Anderson Fork, full of carp and memories.

My dad, Bob, and my Uncle Patsy fancied themselves handymen, although my mom didn’t always endorse that sentiment. One summer, they built a wooden swing for our front porch.

The front porch was a special place for our family, and the swing slowed the pace as we swung leisurely back and forth on the quiet, pleasant summer nights in our sleepy little neighborhood.

My parents would sit in the swing for hours, as we played on the sidewalk or sat on the porch in front of them. Our neighbors, Jake and Gladys Stephens, Enoch Jones, Owen and Evelyn Gray, Elinor Twine and Martha Sprowle, one-by-one would pass by, and more often than not, would stop and share a story or two.

We thought if we sat there long enough, we likely would see Paul and Vera Stryker, Doc and Rosemary Ehlerding, Henry and Elizabeth Speers, Billy and Marilyn Stephens, Joe and Betty Beam, who are now faces from our past.

We often saw an assortment of strollers, parents and children, all walking on their way to unknown destinations, who “could only stay a moment” but usually ended up staying until the lightning bugs turned off their lights.

Our trip to the Heritage Days will allow my sister, Rita, and me to remember the days swinging in the swing, to contemplate the wonder of a front porch in a small town, when times were good, and we were young.

There is something to be said about “neighboring” from the front porch, David Dawson once wrote in an article, “The Decline of the Front Porch”.

He said the front porch served as a mechanism to bind our neighborhoods into a community. He also noted that “the decline of the front porch is a symbol of a more fundamental change that has nothing to do with porches. Back when porch sitting was in fashion, we never felt the need to keep loaded shotguns next to our beds, nor to even lock our houses at night in most cases. Crime, television, and the lure of the air conditioner chased us indoors.”

Our parents looked forward to greeting any and all of our neighbors who stopped along their way. They never had to issue an invitation, for friends knew one was never necessary.

Rita and I remember that the Haley front porch, as were most front porches back then, was open to the gaze of any who happened to walk or drive-by; and as such, was more relaxed and welcoming than inside rooms of the house, or even the lawn chairs in the front yard.

So, as is the custom in Port William, we might be lucky enough to find a front porch and sit for a while. We’ll talk, especially on this day, about times gone by and the happy families we remember, and about slow summer evenings, and listen to the music of a creaky swing and the locusts chorusing in the background.

Not a bad way to spend a weekend. Not bad at all.

Pat Haley is former Clinton County Commissioner and former Clinton County Sheriff.

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Pat Haley

Contributing columnist