- Anjali Gupta
Connecting on the 20 Porches by Lincoln's Summer Cottage
The American porch, which dates back to the 1800's, constitutes a transitional space between the inside privacy of one's home and the community of neighbors outside. Giving an ancestral nod to Greek porticos and admitting an association to the distant relatives of balconies and verandas, these porches have their own identity in American architecture.
The concept of the porch is particularly special during these quarantine days on the oldest street in DC.
There are approximately 20 row houses with porches that line this street. I think both Mr. Rogers and Mr. Hanks would agree "it's a beautiful day in (this) neighborhood." Yes, there have been huge losses that hurt tremendously...memorial services put on hold out of public health necessity. But even amidst all of this, the resilience on this street and the sense of community is truly heartwarming.
Lincoln traveled down this street to get from his summer cottage, where he wrote both the Emancipation Proclamation and the Gettysburg Address, to the White House. Perhaps the sense of special lingers in the air here? The block captain recently explained to me that the front porches are where everyone can be at the same height and see each other. In the pre-Covid past, there were happy hours where each family's porch would host a different appetizer. There were neighborhood concerts when the children of the street would start playing a new instrument, similar to the concept of Porchfest where the porch served as a stage. There have been 4th of July parties to celebrate our country's independence.
Now during our COVID days, the residents of this street come to their porches one to two times per week to check in with each other. When an 11 year old on the block had a birthday, each family played their bingo card from their porch while the birthday boy called out numbers with an amplifier. They have decorated their landings to thank the mailman and others delivering packages. One night they had a distant "masquerade party" from their porches where they all donned a decorated COVID mask. On Wednesdays, they collectively support a local business in the neighborhood. They pick a restaurant together; each family decides to order take-out or delivery and then eats their own meal on their front porch. They are safely social distancing, yet they are supporting each other, sharing information, and understanding deeply the strength of community. Sometimes questions get posed, and each family selects a member to contribute their answer. "What are you grateful for?" Connecting with neighbors around the notion of gratitude despite the losses assists everyone. Upcoming porch gatherings on the calendar for this community include two baby showers.
After I get off the phone and hear these stories, it makes me look outside the window and ponder this concept. Could I connect across the porches in my neighborhood or does the distance between porches create perhaps an unplanned distance of another kind? As I sip my cup of tea, my mind drums up an image from more than 150 years ago of Abraham Lincoln traveling down this street in DC amidst the 2020 backdrop of the current porches. He would wave to these porches, filled with COVID-masked residents who are staying connected even in these difficult times. The resilience of this community and other communities, both rural and urban, across the country are strong despite this pandemic. As a nation, we know how to dig deep, how to support each other, and how to care about others from different states, different occupations, different backgrounds, and different parties.
Thank you for the inspiration, Lori!
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