The band Lonestar penned a catchy tune back in 2003 called “My Front Porch Looking In”. The lyrics included the happy antics of the little family inside the house, implying the view “looking in” beat anything to the outside. That song enters my mind every now and then, especially with the view from my home office looking out over our property. Which got me to wondering, whatever happened to the front-porch swing?
Swings have withstood the test of time, in a world increasingly complex and sophisticated. The playground swings of my childhood – those chain-and-cloth contraptions suspended from a simple framework of iron pipes – are still in abundance in countless parks and schoolyards today. Just last week – as my daughter chose an apartment in a large complex in Los Angeles, I noticed the grounds were scattered with small open spaces, each with benches and fountains… and lots of swings.
I can still remember my early days aboard a swing. Once you figured out how to get your body to generate the momentum, there was no turning back from the addicting to-and-fro. The reckless objective was to see how high you could go – to the point where you’d almost fall out as you stared down at the sand from the sky above. If you really pushed it you could get high enough to cause the chains to lose their slack, resulting in a nasty jolt of the chains before you came plunging back to earth. Finally, there was the I-dare-you launch, where you completed the forward swing with a propel of the body skyward, then dropping to the sand. I often wondered if you could throw in a gymnastic somersault before you stuck your landing. Never tried it.
Just yesterday I passed a large carnival in a city park, with those bright, colorful thrill rides popping up higher than the trees. Sure enough, they had one of those massive swings, where a dozen or more riders are suspended in a circle and twirled up into space. That first rotation is a little unsettling, but I expect the rest is as relaxing as a merry-go-round.
Swings may still be in parks, but they seem to have gone missing from the front porch. Therein lies my favorite “swing memory”. My grandparents’ modest one-story house included a smooth concrete landing just outside the front door, facing a small lawn. On this spot lived one of those wonderful old mechanical porch swings. Picture a rocking couch really, with soft cushions and a cloth surround to keep in the shade and cool. Over time the swing developed a bit of a smell from years of rain and morning dew, but we kids didn’t care. Our feet easily touched the ground, creating the frantic engine of the to-and-fro. When two or three of us would sit side-by-side (arms folded so as not to – ewww – touch each other), we would rock the swing so hard it’s mechanics would protest as loudly as my grandmother. Sometimes we would lie down sideways and swing with just a push of the hands on the concrete.
No doubt, the appeal of the swing stems from those first few years of life, when all of us were rock-a-bye babies. Just watching or listening to the cadence of something going to-and-fro is almost as appealing as the physical feel. So when I see an adult on a swing, I’m not surprised. When I see the long line of rocking chairs at a Cracker Barrel restaurant, I’m not surprised. And when I find anything that goes back-and-forth, it gives me a sense of calm.
My front porch suddenly seems to be missing something. I should get a swing.