The kids are all right | Chuck's World

By Chuck Sigars | May 07, 2014

I had a nice conversation with Laura and Bonica on the front porch last week. I want to tell you about this porch in a bit. Remind me if I forget.

I wrote about Laura and Bonica a couple of weeks ago, although I used fake names. I wrote that this was because I hadn’t asked for permission to use their names, but then I almost never ask for permission. Occasionally I’ve asked for forgiveness.

I didn’t use their real names because I don’t know them all that well, even though in Laura’s case I met her almost 10 years ago. And because I thought I could make a little joke out of it.

People I know well, on the other hand, are almost never rescued by pseudonyms. It’s happened so many times that it feels cliché: I’ll be out with friends, someone will say, “This had better not end up in your column!” and I’ll just smile and raise an eyebrow. Like I have any idea what I’m going to write next week.

But it creates, sometimes, a Pirandello roundtable discussion about what’s being said and how it’s going to be included in this theoretical column. It’s all in fun. Nobody takes me or this very seriously, to be honest.

Laura and Bonica thought it was funny that I’d changed their names, and for a while we wandered back to Pirandello, a bunch of us on the porch, to metacreativity, in which everyone speculated on what part of the ongoing conversation was good fodder for a newspaper column that, by the way, would be published far away from where these people lived, as if they bothered to read newspapers anyway, which they probably don’t.

And then my daughter spoke, leaning forward from the shadows – it was dusk and getting dark quickly – to have the final word. It was her house, after all, and her father.

“You’re going to write about this porch,” she said. “You know you have to.”

It’s an excellent front porch, as front porches go. It’s a nice feature of the home my daughter, her husband and my grandson share in Austin, wrapping halfway around the house, wide and sturdy.

There’s plenty of room for people, to sit, to lean, to walk around. You can pace back and forth with a cranky baby in your arms when the weather is nice; I know all about this now. Just a nice porch.

I’m sure there are still plenty of neighborhoods around the country where old-fashioned front porches are common, although it strikes me that in much of suburbia we’ve become a backyard culture.

That’s where our barbecues are held, where we build our decks, our patios, our pools. We can enjoy more space and also some privacy, and that’s fine.

I’m the last person to construct an imaginary America of the past, in which we all looked like each other, sat on our front porches and watched the kids ride their bikes without those stupid helmets, because they never fell off and never hit their heads.

A world without danger, without predators, without new laws and regulations and without taxes or irritable bowel syndrome. The last person. I’m at war with people who imagine this, in fact.

But I’ve lived in my community for 25 years, and a front porch would have been nice, that’s all. I like my neighbors, and I imagine that from there, I could have watched the children grow up.

Because they definitely grow up.

I spent the evening on that admirable porch in Austin last week, surrounded by children who have grown up. Like Laura and Bonica, they hover around the age of 30, a little beyond, a little before, a cohort I’m familiar with.

I still keep in touch with some of my daughter’s friends from elementary school, or at least I’m aware of what they’re doing. They’re doctors and nurses, political activists and union leaders, musicians and filmmakers, innovators and explorers and creators of all types.

They are Millennials, born into an awkward era. They were in high school when Sept. 11 occurred, and they reached an ideal age for going to war when, as it turns out, there were some wars.

And when they returned from that fun, or graduated college, they faced an economic crisis like none experienced in this country in 80 years, and still they succeed, so many of them. Everybody getting a trophy for playing T-ball didn’t seem to hurt their ambition at all, funny.

I hung on the periphery that night, on the deck, an energy vampire, trying to suck up some of that passion and spark that I faintly remember.

I listened to them talk about philosophy and economics, about ecology and ideas. They laughed and drank beer and ate excellent Cajun food, and their voices lingered in the air, mixing with the street sounds.

I mostly just observed, my opinion not needed, and as it turned out, I wrote a column about that porch after all.

Because if you can watch the children grow up, or some of them, and you haven’t succumbed to the bitter taste of no longer being 30, you might be surprised. You might find hope in this generation that finds our institutions in need of repair and our opinions on how others should lead their lives irrelevant.

You might also find yourself thinking that the world will be in good hands. I think you would be right. I think you just need to sit on a front porch, and watch for a bit.

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