Somewhere in our haste to subdivide society, we eliminated porches and replaced them with nothing that comes close to filling the need to sit a spell and watch the world go by.

That's what front porches were used for in a time when people passed by slow enough to speak to, when you knew your next-door neighbor, the family down the street, and the lady who pushed her baby in a stroller every morning, just before nap time.

Mostly the porches were screened, which cast an eerie reflection when the sun slanted a certain way and a breeze made the mesh roll ever-so slightly like waves from a distant boat.

Upon these porches the chairs were wicker and there might be a rope hammock in the corner, or a slatted swing that hung from screws sunk deep into ceiling studs.

It's where people came to catch an afternoon breeze, shell beans, rock babies, gossip, play guitar, and pass time before the sun went down, or better yet, in the cool of a soft summer night.

Paving the past

Front porches were prevalent in the Palmetto State before we scraped away the trees and planted endless rows of look-alike houses with optional floor plans, carports and red-stained decks.

In the Piedmont, you could sit in a rocker and survey the sloping scenery, feel the cool air spilling down the mountainside, tell ghost stories, and pull a sweater over your shoulders before the moon rose above the hilltops.

In the Midlands, porches were festooned with flowers, a place where bees buzzed, and the infernal heat was stirred slowly by paddles of a ceiling fan.

In the Lowcountry, the screens served as mosquito netting, stretched tight to keep the menacing marauders at bay, but transparent enough to let children see the lightning bugs play on a thick, luscious lawn.

Even our beach houses, the ones with wrap-around porches, are becoming a memory dimmed by time, somewhat forgotten in the rush to air-condition the planet and pave what was left of our past.

Simple splendor

We can blame developers, architects, commutes, and driveways for the disappearance of porches.

We can even point fingers at our auto-driven lifestyle, our garage-door mentality, or our general lack of laziness.

But screened porches, in all their simple splendor, are still out there, sagging, torn and tattered, behind moss-draped trees, down winding dirt roads, along riverbanks, in places left behind.

If only we had known what we were losing when we tore them away, let them succumb to the changing times, we might have let them live on, in modern design, a salute to the way we were, a quiet place to read a book or take a nap.

While some new houses have porches and pretend to placate our past, it's just not the same when you're looking at your neighbor's swing set.

Reach Ken Burger at kburger@postandcourier.com, or 937-5598 or follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/Ken_Burger.