The Porch People

A few years ago, I had the pleasure of meeting Clifton Taulbert, the author of “Eight Habits of the Heart” and “When we were Colored,” which are terrific reads and offer a series of life lessons told through a historical lens. Yet, a book he wrote called “Little Cliff and the Porch People” with the illustrations of E.B. Lewis is also helpful in telling his history growing up in the Mississippi Delta and sharing the importance of relationships and community. You may be saying to yourself what an odd title and who are these “porch people?”

Cliff was raised by his great-grandparents and on Saturday, his great-grandfather would coax little Cliff to go get ice cream in the town thirty miles away. What seemed like a journey to nirvana would become a test of patience for little Cliff. You see, his great-grandfather would use the journey to stop and visit with everyone whose house they passed, who were out sitting on the front porch.

Back then, it would be so hot inside a house in the Mississippi Delta, the people would migrate to the front porch built with shade and cooler breezes in mind. Before television and the internet, people would pass time chatting on the porch waving at passers-by. Little Cliff’s great-grandfather knew this, so he made a special effort to see everyone, to check in on families to learn about their illnesses, recoveries, needs and joys while sharing fellowship.

For a child wanting ice cream, Cliff notes this was a huge test to put off his desire for ice cream. But, he began to see the pattern and learned the importance of visiting with others. Just listening is critical. Offering words of support and the occasional piece of advice is helpful. And, as part of the community, he would learn that sharing people’s needs with his family would create a chain reaction to offer help to those who could use it, even if they did not specifically ask for it.

In the book, Little Cliff tells of his great-grandmother sending him off to borrow some butter to cook with asking him to not stop anywhere and hurry back. Cliff had learned that this was not possible, as he was obligated to stop and chat with folks along the way. The quiet truth is the great-grandmother knew this as well, which is why she sent him on the quest. He would learn the importance of speaking with others and she would gain knowledge of how others are doing.

People have always been in need and will always have needs in the future. Sometimes, the needs cannot be resolved by themselves, so the community can help lift people up. Even though front porches have been replaced by back decks and fewer people are walking, we need to remember the “porch people” and make sure we take the time to check in on folks and see how they are doing. We can hope they would do the same, as you never know when I kind word or a friendly ear can help.