The Passing Scene

Front porches, steps, "stoops" alternative to seeing a psychologist.

By Arthur H. Gunther



While very few Rocklanders of the 1940s and ‘50s -- in a rural county north of New York City -- used the word “stoop,” we understood what it was like to sit on porch steps. As in Gotham, where such was a major past time as well as educational and social opportunity, more than a neighborly nod was to be had.

My grandfather met his wife in 1920, sitting on his steps, across from the lady who would become my grandmother. In Spring Valley, where I largely grew up, the same couple had a house at 14 Ternure Ave. that included a small side porch, and every grandchild sat for a photograph. It was one of the places where I could day-dream.

In Hillcrest, my mother had conversation with her neighbor Irene almost every day in good weather, choosing the front steps to pass an hour or two. Irene was from Manhattan, and she told us how on hot summer nights the entire neighborhood would be out on their “stoops” to get some air but also to connect. A few feet away, their children would be bouncing a ball or jumping rope, and every parent was also the parent of each child in the take-care-of-each-other-neighborhood.

Some of that passed to the suburbs, too, as Gothamites moved out, though not every house had front steps, nor were the homes as close together, and neighborhoods were more anonymous. Eventually, any front step-sitting gave way to the backyard patios of the later 1950s and then the decks of the 1970s and now the outside “rooms” of 2012, with huge barbecues, fire pits, hard and soft landscaping and water features, almost oases apart from the world. 

In an earlier Rockland, most homes had front porches, and swings on them. That was where grandmothers knitted, couples dated and everyone waited for the mailman. Those porches and their steps became observation posts for the passing scene, and as with the stoops of the cities, places to think things through or to share confidences over worries and fears, joys and dreams.  Both past times provided emotional and social reinforcement and learning experiences.

In a world that seems more isolated and which since 2001 appears on edge, perhaps we could do with a few more porches, steps and stoops and some neighborly visits.

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art gunther III June 26, 2012 at 01:43 PM
Thanks, pal McGee. You and I grew up in a more trusting time. --Art
Bruce Cohen June 26, 2012 at 03:36 PM
Wouldn't it be nifty if new houses were offered the option to be constructed with a front stoop, and we all could relive our childhoods with pink Spaulding balls, and "borrowed" broom handles so we could play stick ball. Even place down reusable sewer covers (manholes) to define the distances of a hit. We could even form a Rockland County league of stick ball teams, but you'd have to have grown up or at last born in NYC and be at least 55 years old. Now wouldn't that be a neat way to enjoy our lost youth? And BTW, No girls allowed.
Margaret McKee June 26, 2012 at 03:54 PM
Drat!.....I was going to sign up for your stick ball team......but I'm a girl.......55 plus and I tagged out more guys at first base (the fire hydrant on 161st St.).then Gillette had blades....and broke sticks with home runs. The guys called me "White Sox". We chose up sides on the Stoop.
art gunther III June 26, 2012 at 04:59 PM
Both Bruce C. and Margaret McK. well describe the past times of old New York, fun stuff with a built-in cheering section on the front stoop. Didn't cost a dime but invested a fortune in dealing with later life.
Bruce Cohen June 26, 2012 at 05:27 PM
Hey Margaret, With a history like that, I think we can easily make an exception. And if the "Guys" don't like it, they can take their sticks and go home. So there. Welcome to the team that doesn't exist. But I be we can beat the Boulders and don't "need no expensive stadium" for that.
Margaret McKee June 26, 2012 at 05:50 PM
Yeah, betch 3 "immes" our team (the Rockers) can beat the Boulders anytime. "All guys and one gal" Thanks for the welcome, Bruce.
Rose Marie Raccioppi June 26, 2012 at 07:22 PM
Ah, YES, the smiles are real. Being a product of New York City, you each have described the joys of the city block, the summer gatherings on the front stoop, the shared lemonade, laughter and the simple joy of watching ... yes, I qualify - years mark many a precious memory of young days in Manhattan...
R.R.T. June 26, 2012 at 09:06 PM
I wouldn't hang this all on 9 11. The 90's, the decade of self and greed, which spawned the generation of coddled, self centered, pod people who turned Manhattan into a gentrified outdoor maul deserve a little credit as well. Stoops are great, but these people wouldn't know what to do with a stoop if you lead them to one and sat them down.
art gunther III June 26, 2012 at 09:48 PM
Well yes, R.R.T., 'greed," whether it be in Manhattan, in big business, in government -- makes the world less viewable from a porch, a stoop, from any perch. You wonder whether simple things matter to those who live high on the hog.
Peter S. June 26, 2012 at 10:00 PM
It's not just Manhattan, the culture has bled everywhere. What were once villages are now just suburban communities. Prominent among the victims claimed, have been common sense and diversity.
JM June 26, 2012 at 10:04 PM
Blame it on air conditioning. (?) With it - who ever goes out? Whether in the city, where I lived for a decade, or the suburbs where I am now, air conditioning keeps people from interacting on a stoop. It also led to what we have today in July/August in particular -- no need for a vacation. Thus, it keep offices cool so employees keep that 80-hour week moving to make profit for the employer (and they have no reason to ever spend time in their home.) Before air conditioning, people gathered outside and that so-called work week (which was for primarily a male thing) was not so long in summer months because everyone was miserably hot at the office building and often went home early. So says my grandad...where they then gathered on the stoop, had a beer, smoked, sang, chatted about politics and knew each other quite intimately. It sounds to me a far better time, and higher quality of life than we have today. But I am a realist and expect no one to give up air conditioning to make a new friend or two....
Alice June 26, 2012 at 10:16 PM
Air conditioning and television are nothing compared to the isolation brought to you by the internet. People live now with a virtual world, fairy tale conception of what life is or could be. Men? Have you seen what passes for men these days? We have lost the plot, the country's ripe for taking. Really all that's left is for someone to come in and mop up.
JM June 26, 2012 at 10:17 PM
Alice. I concur 100%.
elaine June 27, 2012 at 03:16 AM
thx, art. you always bring a smile to my face..
art gunther III June 27, 2012 at 11:47 AM
Well, Elaine, I'm sure I have brought frowns to other faces, so thanks for the smile notation.
BenRound June 27, 2012 at 01:12 PM
Nice article. And, for once, no nasty comments or sarcastic remarks following. Could use a lot more of these!
art gunther III June 27, 2012 at 01:35 PM
Yes, Ben, perhaps all these guys and gals had a moment to sit on the porch or the stoop and reflect in this crazy world!
Bruce Cohen June 27, 2012 at 01:42 PM
art, Just read your comment Re: no nasty replies, for once. Perhaps a piece on the whys and reasons for just such poor behavior. This type of reaction is a growing problem here in the county.
Dan Seidel June 27, 2012 at 01:44 PM
stoop ball anyone?
art gunther III June 27, 2012 at 01:55 PM
Bruce, when I was Editorial Page Editor at The Journal-News, ( a 20-year stint in my 42 seasons there), I deliberately wrote about uncivilized conduct at public meetings, how some motorists would not give way to volunteer firefighters and other rude behavior, etc. When online, anonymous postings began for newspapers and other information media, I opposed that, principally because of the nasty, even hateful responses. Happy to see that names are now required, though the responses may still be utterly rude and off the mark. This seems to be the case in other parts of the US, too.
William Demarest (Editor) June 27, 2012 at 02:42 PM
I'm happy to say that the front porch is still a place for neighbors to meet up in Nyack. It's not quite the same as the stoop back in Queens when I was a kid, but it does just fine! The only problem is it seems there is more and more truck traffic locally, making conversations difficult as the big rigs rumble by and rip up the streets.
Cadeyrn June 28, 2012 at 12:55 PM
A few more porches for sure. In fact, that might just be the ticket to reclaiming neighborhoods and bringing back street play and the loads of activities that have vanished especially for children. Seldom do you see kids playing ball or skipping' rope or even riding bikes. All activities for kids seem adult-directed and almost always beyond the immediate neighborhood. We've robbed youngsters of a lot of first-rate interactive time where kids can learn social skills, polish their athleticism and the where-with-all to simply navigate life on a day-to-day basis. You learn a lot thru street play ... a lot about truth, friendship, fair play and good ol' competition. You also learn humility ... and how to say you're sorry. And a kid can find out what they're good at ... and what they're not so good at. But most of all, those kids learn to be creative and independent. And they learn to solve all sorts of problems ... from bullying to poor sportsmanship ... all by themselves ... without parents hovering like helicopters and wrecking a perfect great time.
art gunther III June 28, 2012 at 03:17 PM
Cadeyrn has made an eloquent case for porch-sitting 'education.'


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