Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Lemonade on the Porch Swing

There are days when I want to write about the issues of the day, the headlines, the travesties, and sometimes even the bits of good news here and there.

There are days when I want to write about homeschooling, about various challenges and struggles homeschoolers can face, and even, though not for a long time now, about Creatures that Haunt Homeschooling Moms.

There are days when I feel stirred to write about Church related matters, about what it means to be a Catholic in this day and age, about the struggle to live in virtue and the ceaseless battles with temptation, and about how some of those battles lurk innocuously inside sweeping topics Catholics sometimes fight about.

And then there are days like today.

Days when the early hot weather seems to sap me of energy even more than the triple-digit days to come will, if only because this weather lulls you into believing that it's not all that hot, until the moment when you realize that--yes--it is.

Days when if I drank coffee like Balzac I might be able to formulate thoughts, carve sentences across an empty page, ponder, reflect, re-caffeinate, and start all over, and in the end be at least somewhat happy with the finished result; but alas! I've given up coffee, again, because I can't be trusted to drink it in anything even remotely resembling moderation--and I like the taste of tea better, anyway.

And it's too hot for coffee. And even for tea, really, except early in the morning when the heavy warm blanket of air hasn't yet settled over the house, covering everything in a sleepy layer of somnolent heat.

Today's the sort of day for lemonade on a porch swing, and desultory conversation with the neighbors, conversation that goes nowhere and means nothing, but starts with things like "Hot enough for you, yet?" and ends with the men, shirt sleeves rolled up and ties removed as a concession to the weather, making broad political statements in between discussing the vexation of yardwork in this sort of heat, and the women keeping their claws retracted as they marvel at the thought that the local department store is displaying sweaters--sweaters!--in the big front window that faces Main Street. One woman wonders if McGrady of McGrady's Store has been too lazy or too ill to clear out the last of the winter goods, while the other suspects that the same mindset that made him display beachwear in March is responsible for the early appearance of the fall clothing line.

The conversation is punctuated by the cries and shouts and laughter of children, who dash up periodically to get permission or forgiveness, or to tattle or to blame someone for tattling; then they dart back out from yard to yard as if they're playing on a giant's hopscotch board. The sun starts to sink slowly, and the evening breezes wave gentle fans of comfort across shiny or red faces; a porch light or two turns on, and a dog or seven barks at the approaching twilight.

All too soon the fireflies will appear, the harbingers of the littlest ones' bedtimes; soon the creak of the porch swing and tinkle of ice in frosty glasses will be replaced by the sound of water splashing on little hands and faces, and the creak of the rocking chair as the baby gets put to sleep for the night; the sounds of families and neighbors and communities drift out through open screens and are muffled here and there by noisy old electric fans that disperse the last of the day's lingering heat from bedrooms and front rooms and kitchens. Maybe a radio's crackle and hum can be heard, too, but its sound is low, subdued, because the person playing it knows that he doesn't own the ambient air.

Lovely thoughts--but as unreal as the fading memory of a dream, at least where I live.

There are no porch swings here. There are no front porches. People don't want to know their neighbors, let alone see what they're doing in the evening twilight. Our houses are closed up tighter than drums, the air conditioning circling around with its artificial cooling powers; it's a tribute to the Texas heat that you can hardly tell it's on until the sun goes down, though you'd miss it if it stopped working. If it did stop working and you had to open the windows, it wouldn't do much good, in our close-packed shadeless rows of concrete pavements and brick facades; you wouldn't dare go to sleep at night with the windows wide and a box fan or two purring in the grinning open darkness of the night.

The sounds of car-stereo systems and random loud radios would find their way in through the open spaces, and you might hear shouting and language you'd rather not hear; a car alarm or two might alert you to the fact that the perennial suburban pastime of breaking into cars to steal stuff was well underway; the neighborhood association tries to do what it can, but the police don't have the time or the budget to care that people can't leave their cars parked out front without making themselves a target.

And this isn't a bad neighborhood; not at all. It's a modest suburban neighborhood complete with nearby elementary school and a community pool. But this is how so many of us live, now. This is how so much of America lives, unless you live in an old city neighborhood full of character, or a rural home with plenty of land and few who would bother you.

We might still have the lemonade, but it's little consolation when what we're really thirsting for seems to have evaporated altogether.


matthew archbold said...

i love this blog. One of my favorites. Your pov is different than anyone else's.
(And by the way, your comment over at Mark Shea's site about Mark and Dawn's day had me laughing for hours. Brilliant)

Red Cardigan said...

Gosh, Matthew, thank you! :)

Anonymous said...

I realize how fortunate my family is to live in a real old fashioned neighborhood with sidewalks and front porches, plenty of neighbors and children buzzing around. It doesn't come cheap here in NJ, and our homes are old, small and ridiculously expensive by any sense of the imaginations. But we have community and that is priceless (as I mull over our $800 utility bill this month).

matthew archbold said...

I'd like to put your comment from mark shea on my blog. Do I have your permission?
matt archbold

Red Cardigan said...

Matthew, absolutely! Please do!

RonG said...

What a wonderful post, so literary,so real I could sense it, real or unreal.

As a new blog reader, I often grow tired with the same old stuff - this was a pleasant change, reminding me of my old English Lit days.

You do evoke some sadness with your description of your neighborhood. We now live outside Charlotte, NC in South Carolina - A beautiful, green, quiet, safe place.

Oh, how I long for my youth front porch with pleasant neighbors and at peace with the Lord, that is, the Catholic Lord.

Red Cardigan said...

Thank you! And welcome!

Jennifer F. said...

I'm way late on this (I always wait to read your blog until I have time to really think about all the posts...which means I don't get to it as much as I'd like), but I just wanted to say that this is a fantastic post.