A conversation in Down East Carteret County might begin like this:
“How’s ya mama’n’em?” (How are your mother, father and extended family?)
The reply might be: “Sakes be, youngern; they’s fine. Everyone’s just settin’ out on the pizer drinkin’ Cocolas and a-carryin’ on.”
A pizer is a porch, of course, a shortened form of the Italian word “piazza.” Down Easters often truncate words, change vowel sounds and sometimes add “r” after vowels. Such is the case in the formation of the word “pizer.”
Porches, pizers, porticos and verandas are part of the culture of the South. Language also comes with the territory.
For the record, great Americans George Washington and Thomas Jefferson referred to their majestic porches at Mount Vernon and Monticello, respectively, as piazzas.
Porches continue to be important structural features in the South. The National Association of Home Builders reports that 86 percent of new homes being built in the Southeastern states now come with front porches attached.
There’s also a grand movement afoot to “promote front porch culture as a way to build and strengthen communities.” The initiative is called “Front Porch Nation,” and it was organized by “porchistas” Kathy Price-Robinson and Erica Robinson.
They profess: “With front porches, neighbors know each other better, which leads to greater community cohesion. Front porches increase friendliness and decrease isolation.”
Sandra Hopper’s article on “porching” for South Brunswick Magazine, based in Leland introduces the term as an activity associated with chilling out for an extended amount of time by sitting on the porch.
Food, beverages and conversation with a family member, friend or neighbor are optional.
People are porching all the time in the Woodsong neighborhood in Shallotte. “The cottages all have front porches, and its residents are all about porch living,” Hopper wrote.
“In an informal survey, Woodsong residents offered more anatomical suggestions for porches: a glass of wine or a cold beer on a hot day, comfortable furniture with pillows, an area rug and seasonal decor. Other suggested requirements included morning coffee and a newspaper, favorite books, friends and laughter. One household specialty in this neighborhood is muscadine popsicles, a great addition to porching.”
Woodsong resident Julia Steffen told Hopper: “If the kitchen is the heart of our house, the porch is its soul. Inside the house is where the tasks of daily living that seem to grow by the day get checked off the list. But outside, we porch to return to those things that really matter.”
“And how long do people porch? On a good day it can last for hours. Most residents porch daily – morning, afternoon or evening. One Woodsong resident says, ‘I porch until the sun goes down, the dinner bell rings or the wine is gone.’”
Some of the best front porches in Carteret County are found within the historic district of Beaufort. It is here that one is introduced to the color of “haint blue.” It’s a pale blue shade that is often seen adorning the porch ceilings of coastal homes.
“Haint” is a Southern variation of haunt, meaning a ghost or spirit. Beaufort is “ghost central.” Martha Barnes, who volunteers with the Beaufort Historical Association, tells visitors: “Many of our old homes are haunted. I tell everyone that this is such a wonderful place to live, that when people die, they still want to hang around.”
According to paranormal legend, “frustrated spirits, caught between life and death, cannot cross water. Hence, pale blue ceilings that mimic the color of water keep spirits from entering a house.”
Katherine Owen, an assistant editor at Southern Living magazine, describes the process of selecting porch furniture in the South: “We (Southerners) love porch-sitting” and “are happy as can be with the classics. Like a good old rocking chair.”
The choices seem endless, Owen said. “It can be … daunting to pick one that is ‘juuuuust right.’ Not to be the Goldilocks of porch decorating, but the rocking chair can’t be too fancy, too creaky, too big, too small, or just too … not right.”
“In middle of the 20th century, porches were less needed because of air conditioning and less wanted because of television,” reported Lynn Freehill-Maye, a contributor to CityLab, an online magazine based in Boston. “The more secluded back deck came into favor, too,” she said.
“After once being considered outdated and rural, the porch has recently re-emerged and is in demand. People are organizing social gatherings known as ‘porchfests,’ often with performers and musicians.”
The annual Conference on the Front Porch in held each fall in Taylor, Miss., near Oxford and the University of Mississippi. This year’s is scheduled for Sept. 26-27. Speakers will explore the significance of the front porch in the American South, both from an architectural and sociological perspective along with other architects, developers, planners, social historians and “lovers of all things porch.”
Claude Stephens and Erin Henle, both of Louisville, Ky., are likely to attend the conference to recruit porch advocates to form local chapters of their Professional Porch Sitters Union. When Stephens and Henle are in full porch-sitting mode, their porch names are Crow Hollister and Snickers McFlurry.
Their organization sounds like a great concept, but bless their hearts. In the Southland, an “association” may be more politically correct.