I recently returned from a conference in Georgia, about 30 miles outside of Atlanta, and it wasn’t anything like I thought it would be. I was expecting a flat, brown suburban landscape bisected by packed superhighways. And there was a little of that but to my surprise as we drove south from the airport long rolling hills rippled out of the lush trees. Georgia was, in a word, pretty! Most of my time at this conference was indoors, breathing cool, dry, controlled air. The day before I left, though, I was able to get out, walk and even run.
I wandered through the back of neighborhoods on a series of paved paths and I looked at houses. Most of them were new, built in a sort of neo-southern style. With their sturdy, large front porches and expansive roofs they couldn’t have been the houses just anywhere (more about the roofs once we have one). Even though they looked like American homes- in contrast to the homes I’ve seen in Canada, Europe or anywhere else- I could not transpose one into our current town, or into any other town I’ve lived in. A southern front porch is iconic, after all; I have no pictures, but you can envision one anyway. And if you can’t, think Gone With the Wind.
Later, while driving back to the airport I saw more houses. Even the post-war ranch houses, similar in shape to the home I lived in until the second grade, were somehow different from their northeastern cousins. Mostly it was the porches again. The smallest ranches had effusive front porches reminiscent of rocking chairs and sweet tea. As we got closer to the city I saw development after development of new suburban homes. Their front porches were reduced to just thresholds and their roofs were shaped like those in a child’s drawing. But, though they lost their southerness they were still uniquely American homes.
Our house is now being framed. We started with a tetris-piece hole that hints at the shape, but over the next few weeks that shape will turn three-dimensional, into a house, on its way to a home. Those of you who have asked, “what kind of house is it?” will be able to see for yourselves, soon. It will be distinctly New England for sure and not only because of our vestigial front porch.