Sweeping the porch

Ronda Rich

It’s interesting how a simple task will bring back a tumbling of memories and love by touching a tiny piece of tenderness tucked down deep.

Like sweeping the porch.

Every time I sweep a porch at our house – we have two and one of them extends down the entire length of the house – I think of Mama and her mama before her. They loved to sweep. I think especially of Mama whenever I tidy the porch of the house that she and Daddy called “home” for most of their lives.

Mama swept her porches every other day or so. In the last few years of her life, she would, on rare occasion, say, “Ronda, before you leave, grab the broom and sweep the porch off.”

Though I should have well outgrown it, I would usually roll my eyes and make that “huh” grunt that is particularly favored by teenagers. But I always did as she asked.

Many a time, I heard her say to a child or a grandchild – but never to Daddy for he knew better – “Y’uns wipe your feet off before you come in this house. Don’t you be trackin’ anything in on my clean floors. You hear me?”

My memories of her sweeping those porches are so comforting that I cherished her last old-fashioned, straw broom. It was the kind that lasted forever and often leave a straw or two behind. They were so sturdily made that I’d venture to guess that she only had three or four in her entire 87 years. The one before last, she had worn down to the nub.

I’m not sure how it happened, the demise of that broom. I couldn’t bear to ask and, as Mama would’ve said, “It makes no never mind anyway. What’s done is done.”

Some friends were living temporarily at what many have come to call “The Little House.” They were extremely good about keeping things neat and were always mindful of the family history with which they had been entrusted. It was purely accidental, I am certain, that someone left Mama’s broom on the porch.

I was running one morning on a route that took me by Mama’s. I glanced toward the front yard. I stopped, my heart suddenly pounding. Two Labradors had snagged Mama’s broom and were tearing it to shreds. The handle had been chewed significantly – each dog held one side of the stick – and only a few pitiful pieces of straw clung stubbornly.

I teared up, watching as one dog snatched it from another and ran off with a piece of my foolish heart. I hate this about myself. I hate that things of such little significance matter so much.

That’s been years ago now but still I twinge a bit when I think of that broom. I wish I that I had it and could use it to sweep the porch.

Mama’s penchant for swishing a broom hither and yon came, I believe, from MawMaw Miller. In the Appalachian childhood of Mama’s generation, there were no front yards of which to speak. No grass. And if there had been grass, there was nothing with which to cut it.

So, they swept.

Faithfully, daily. One of the farm chores was to sweep clean the dirt in the front of the house, the same dirt on which yard dogs wallowed and chickens pecked. Usually the front porches set a foot or two off the ground, accessed by rickety steps where an old straight back chair or two awaited. PawPaw built a rocker and caned the back and bottom.

When those images of old tin-roofed houses heaving with age comes to mind, I have an understanding of why Mama liked cleaning up our porch.

It was nice, I’m sure, to have a red painted cement porch with brick steps.

It sure beat having to sweep a dirt yard.

[Ronda Rich is the best-selling author of the new book, “Let Me Tell You Something.” Visit www.rondarich.com to sign up for her free weekly newsletter.]