Houses in this area of Minnesota generally do not have what most had in the neighborhood in which I grew up in Dayton, Ohio: Porches. Oh, yes, there are the little four-foot by four-foot kind and now and then there are completely screened-in and even storm-windowed-in porches that to me are more like three season rooms, but seldom a porch that is the width of the house and is more like an open-air room with a roof to house the porch swing, rocking chairs and possibly a small table or two.
I have wondered why the lack of porches is the case. Possibly here on the plains it is too windy much of the time so the porch furniture would not be used or would be blown away.
Or maybe the being-outside-time (non-winter) is considered too short to bother with having a porch. More recent construction may be that people, kids and adults, just would not sit outside when there is no television to entertain them, so a porch would not be used.
Air conditioning may also have played a role: There is no reason to sit outside to catch a breeze when you can have the perfect temperature inside. I have friends who never open a window in their home - just set the heat and air conditioning to always have the same temperature in the house.
Speaking of fresh air, when was the last time you saw a clothesline of sheets being air-dried in the outdoors? If I were a betting type, I would guess that would have happened watching one of those commercials on television where you can use some additive to the laundry or some spray to make the sheets smell as though they had been dried in the outdoors. I believe I remember hearing about some communities where it is actually against the law to hang wash out to dry.
As a newspaper deliverer, I really appreciated porches. Delivering papers was probably more efficient because I could be at the location for where the papers were distributed to the deliverers, roll the papers so that they were missile-shaped or if the papers were small, they could be folded into napkin-sized shapes, both of which could be tossed or sailed onto the porches without worrying about the papers getting wet. I could ride my bike with the newspaper bag hung over the back fender of the bike, reach in and grab the paper and hurl it onto the porch. What slowed the process down a bit were the few houses that had no porches where I would have to get off the bike and put the paper behind the screen door.
Porches also helped cement and bond the neighborhood together. Especially in the summer, older folks would sit on their porches and now and then someone would walk by on the sidewalk with whom there would be a quick visit or even an impromptu, "come up and sit a spell." Because our house sat up a little higher than the street, it was also possible for parents to watch their kids playing in neighbors' yards or even in the street (not much traffic back then!)
What I particularly remember are the rainy days albeit when it was not a lightning and thunderstorm. The porch provided the playroom. Monopoly on the porch was a challenge because the paper money was liable to blow away, but card games were pretty good. In younger years, there were the small tootsietoy cars with houses, buildings, and ramps made of old cardboard boxes.
The game of jacks was also a favorite in those younger years and only now and then did we have to scamper off the porch in the rain to retrieve the ball that rolled off the porch. It has been quite a while since I have seen any neighborhood kids getting together for a game of jacks - I believe the game is still played because I have seen stores have fancy, plastic, colored jacks.
The game of jacks is derived from a really old game, possibly old in terms of over two thousand years, albeit sometimes called by other names: jackstones, jackrocks, fivestones, onesies, knucklebones, snobs. From some of the names you can imagine some of the variations of the game. One small round rock of about an inch or so in diameter served as the "ball." Instead of bouncing it as when I played the game, the rock "ball" would be thrown up in the air and then the player would have to pick up some smaller pebbles that were the "jacks."
In our game, the idea was to start by tossing the ball up and letting it bounce once and catching the ball before the second bounce and after a certain number of jacks were picked up. The game started with onesies: toss the ball, pick up a jack, toss again and pick up another jack, and so on until all the jacks had been retrieved. After onesies, there was twosies where you had to pick up two jacks each time the ball was tossed. Then threes, fours, and so on until finally all the jacks had to be picked up at the same time. Of course at some point there might be an odd number of jacks to retrieve, for example if picking up five at a time when there are a total of 12 jacks would mean at the third toss there would be only two jacks to retrieve. Usually a 12 jack set was the limit, but almost any number of jacks would work. Fifteen jacks is almost impossible to do.
I said jacks is an ancient game. The writer, Sophocles, in the fifth century BC, attributed the invention of the game to General Palamedes who was supposedly a main figure in the Trojan Wars. I almost feel like Paul Harvey in telling this: "And now you know the rest of the story."
Until next time: Oh, Fiddlesticks!