Evoking a time when life revolved around the front porch, where friends gathered, stories were told, and small moments took on larger meaning, in today’s hurry-up world, Philip Gulley’s essays remind us of the world we once shared—and can share again.
When Philip Gulley began writing newsletter essays for the members of his Quaker meeting in Indiana, he had no idea one of the essays would find its way to radio commentator Paul Harvey Jr. and be read on the air to 24 million people. Fourteen books later, with more than one million copies in print, Gulley still entertains as well as inspires from his small-town front porch.
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About the Author
Philip Gulley is a Quaker minister, writer, husband, and father. He is the bestselling author of Front Porch Tales, the acclaimed Harmony series, and is coauthor of If Grace Is True and If God Is Love. Gulley lives with his wife and two sons in Indiana, and is a frequent speaker at churches, colleges, and retreat centers across the country.
Read an Excerpt
Stories of Decency, Common Sense, and Other Endangered Species
Several years back, I was visiting an elderly woman in my Quaker meeting. She was reminiscing about her childhood. I asked her what she missed the most. She closed her eyes for a moment, thinking back, then said, "Porch talk. I miss the porch talk."
Social scientists and preachers offer a number of reasons for the decline of civil society: broken homes, poverty, disease, television, and increasing secularism, to name a few. I believe all that is wrong with our world can be attributed to the shortage of front porches and the talks we had on them. Somewhere around 1950, builders left off the front porch to save money, and we've had nothing but problems ever since.
I place the blame squarely at the feet of William and Alfred Levitt, who built the first modern subdivision of 17,477 homes in a Long Island potato field in 1947. The Levitt brothers have since passed away and can't argue back. I often blame deadpeople for that very reason.
Prior to the subdivision, wheneverpeople built a home, they had the good sense to add a porch. Then the Levitts thought money could be saved by not adding porches. I'm as much for saving money as the next guy, but porches are not the place to do it.
All manner of lessons were learned on the front porch. When the porches went, so did the stories and the wisdom with them. Today, we do our talking during the commercial breaks. This is a profound tragedy, but one we could correct by putting our televisions in the closet and porches on our homes.
The first years of my life, I lived in a house without a porch,in the first subdivision in our small town. When I turned nine, a grand old house with a porch came on the market. The Hollowell house. The Hollowells had been gone ten years, but the current owners hadn't resided in the house long enough for their name to adhere.
My parents would drive by it, slowing as they passed.
"Wouldn't it be wonderful to live there?" they would say to one another.
Then one Saturday morning, while Dad was walking on the town square, the owner of the jewelry store, who was also the town's realtor, stopped him.
"I have just the house for you," he told my father. "The Hollowell place. They're asking thirty thousand."
"Can't afford it," my father said.
"I can get you in that house for a thousand-dollar down payment," the jeweler-realtor said.
"I don't have a thousand dollars," my father told him.
"Write me a check, and I won't cash it until you have the money," the realtor promised.
So my father did, then and there, without telling my mother.
A few days later, the president of the bank, Hursel Disney, phoned to ask my father why he would write a check for a thousand dollars when he only had three dollars in his account.
"The realtor told me he wouldn't cash it," my father explained.
"Yeah, that's what he tells everyone," Hursel said. "Tell you what, the check just fell off my desk and landed in back of the trash can. I probably won't find it until next month."
That's the way the presidents of small-town banks did things back in those days.
And that's how we came to live in a house with a porch.
My memory is this: Each April, on the first warm Saturday, we would remove the storm windows, haul them up to the attic, carry down the screens, and fit them in the windows. The windows and screens, being old and handmade, lacked the exactness of factory windows. Someone, Mr. Hollowell, I presume, had written on each screen, in shaky, old-man handwriting, which window it fit. Dining room, south. Northwest bedroom, window over register. The screens never fit precisely. My father would rub a bar of soap along the frames and finesse the screens into place.
With the screens installed, we would carry the stepladder around to the front porch, lower the porch swing to its correct height, to the link in the chain with the dab of red paint, then carry the rocker up from the basement. Thus, porch season commenced.
There was an etiquette to porch sitting.People would approach our porch and stop at the foot of the steps, awaiting an invitation to join us. If one wasn't forthcoming, they knew delicate matters were being discussed and would excuse themselves after a brief exchange of pleasantries. This rule was never discussed or written down, but was generally known and obeyed by all, except by children and dull-witted adults.
Porch sitting was an evening pursuit, after the supper dishes were washed and the kitchen cleaned. We children would run underneath the streetlight, shrieking, our hands covering our hair to keep the bats out. Bats, tradition had it, made nests in your hair and drove you mad. My mother and father would watch from the porch, unconcerned, as the bats swooped past, plucking at our heads.
After a while, my mother would call us into the yard, then a while later onto the porch. Coming in for the night was always a progression. Street, yard, porch. By the time we reached the porch, we were fading and would arrange ourselves on the railing, our backs to the columns, while the adults visited. If we sat quietly and listened closely, we could hear them discuss matters we weren't ordinarily privy to, stories of certainpeople in our town who'd moved away without telling anyone.
Some evenings, if my father was feeling expansive, he would share stories of his childhood, about growing up in what he called the "hard times." In later conversations with my Aunt Doris, I learned many of my father's stories were embellished, which in no way lessened their appeal.
On nights the Cincinnati Reds played, my father would set the kitchen radio on the parlor table, open the window onto the porch, and listen to Marty Brennaman announce the game. Lee Comer would wander over from next door to provide local commentary. Lee was exempt from the rules of porch etiquette. He and any member of his family could ascend the steps without asking, and still can, since Lee's son, Ben, now owns the house, even though it's still called the Gulley house.Porch Talk
Stories of Decency, Common Sense, and Other Endangered Species. Copyright © by Philip Gulley. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
What People are Saying About This
“Gulley … leaves us thinking that he would be a good man to spend time with.”
“Reading Porch Talk is like sitting next to an old friend and listening to the music of his storytelling.”
“Practical, poignant, funny, and frank—the Quaker Will Rogers rides again!”
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Yes, I¿d seen these books before, but the big American flag on the front cover along with a blurb about the book citing it was composed of stories about ¿decency¿ and ¿common sense¿ put me off. However, I desperately needed a book to read and this was all I could find. What a surprise. Not stories about decency and common sense as much as stories about trying to make a life of decency and common sense.
I have read all of Philip Gulley's books and love the stories. They just make me feel good.