My parents hung a swing from the roof of our front porch before I was old enough to walk. It’s one of the first things I remember vividly. While I sat outside in the sandbox, the summer heat beating down on my scalp, my father drilled a pair sturdy-looking eye hooks into two of the wooden beams running the length of the porch. When he were satisfied, he and my mother walked over to the truck, lowered the tailgate, and offloaded the swing.
Porch swings are common in the American South. Take a drive through any residential area, and you’ll see them everywhere. More affluent homes, usually those with a screened porch or sunroom will have cushions and throw pillows, as well. For my family, having a swing on our porch meant we were part of the neighborhood. Having moved down from above the Mason-Dixon line meant we were Yankees — northern folk — and we had a ways to go before our Southern friends truly saw us as one of their own.
The cats were the first to sit on the swing until my father shooed them away. They were persistent, though. If they didn’t sit on it, they were always lurking nearby, particularly when people were around. This was the case throughout my entire grade school career. Each morning when I left, the cats were there. As they enthusiasm for the swing waned, they claimed the swing as their own.
The swing had uses throughout the year round. Winter doesn’t linger in the south. It comes and goes in three about three week’s time, usually in February. Then the temperatures begin to climb. As you might expect, sitting on the front porch swing can be a year-round activity. In the summer, it’s another seat during a cookout. During the fall, it’s a great place to rest between scouring the yard for pecans.
My mother decided to paint the swing when I was eleven and banned me from the front porch while she conducted this business. By then, I’d managed to ruin several of her painting projects by adding handprints to the paint. The worst incident of the bunch happened the day I came home from school and tracked wet paint from the concrete stairs leading up to our front door over the threshold and onto the carpet. The railing had been painted as well, and both the wooden and screen doors, as well as each handle, bore the mark of my passage. Needless to say, my mother had the good sense to keep me away from the swing, where I tended to spend so much of my time.
However, how does one explain such business to a cat?
By the time my mother managed to run them off, the seat of the swing and the sidewalk nearby carried no shorted of painted cat paws. When my mother brushed the wood again, she left two small prints near the edge as a reminder that the swing, in fact, belonged to the cats.
That swing survived for ten years after I moved away. I came home one day after almost two years overseas to find a new swing sitting in its place. It was larger, wider, and built from a lighter shade of wood. On either end, two drink holders — a definite improvement — invited you to sit and stay a while.
And lying there in the afternoon heat, stretched end to end across those wooden planks, a pair of cats looked up at me, called once to let me know that the swing was occupied, and went back to sleep.