Dark green paint was the colour of almost every two-story house in Toronto’s east end.
If you were very bold, the house was painted deep red with an ecru trim. My mother didn’t want to stand out in a crowd or cause a row in the neighborhood, so she insisted that our house exterior be painted the standard dark green trim with a white porch. The porch floor was painted grey.
Painting the outside of the house was always a big job. First, the extension ladder was borrowed from my grandfather’s garage. Extension ladders in those days were not light aluminum ones; nevertheless, my father would walk to my grandparents’ home at the top of the street and come home carrying the wooden ladder while I sat on the porch and waited.
No one ever painted over the old paint. Perhaps there were too many layers. A blow torch was used to soften up the old paint. The torch had a brass barrel, never as shiny as the ones that I see at auctions.
Next came the lighting of the gas. This wouldn’t have stuck in my memory if my mother hadn’t been such a worrier. My mother expected an explosion whenever there was fire, gas, or even matches. My father would quietly ignore my mother’s admonitions, light the torch and begin peeling the paint. It gave off a beautiful smell like burning leaves on a fall day.
Peeling the paint was right up there with helping my grandfather shave wood. Over and over, my Dad and I would clean off the old paint from the porch. Twisting off those silky strips of glistening paint and pulling ever so gently and slowly to try to get the biggest curl of paint yet.
Our porch served many duties. The huge baby pram with its great big belly like a whale was always on the porch. My baby brother always slept outside during the daytime – even on the coldest winter days – buried beneath piles of blankets with an old coat thrown over the top of the pram. It was Nana’s idea of child-rearing: she insisted that children must sleep outside even in winter, and my mother had no choice but to follow her determined mother’s ideas.
The porch was also where I was put on house-cleaning day: “Here – take your toys and play on the porch. No, you can’t come in until the floors are dry.”
There was no furniture on our porch. At the time, I never questioned why – but I remember the Duncans’ house down the street had a glider on their porch with striped cushions.
Ours was a ‘playing porch’ – an open porch with steel-grey painted wood floor and bars of white cut-out shapes with a smooth enamel green railing on top. The railing was just the right height for me at five years old to imagine that I was standing on board my pirate ship and waving goodbye to all those scalliwag friends of mine.
Out I would go into my land of adventure, sticking my head in every so often for more toys. Especially on rainy spring days, my friends and I would gather on the porch.
Blankets dragged from the house and kitchen chairs became Indian tepees or, more often, a pirate ship. The enemy was hiding just around the corner in the alleyway and the tepee or ship had to be put in just the right place so the baby carriage wasn’t bumped, setting off wails. Occasionally, we ventured off onto the lawn to retrieve weapons tossed overboard in the excitement of the moment.
That porch served us well as children. I couldn’t imagine a house without one.
It wasn’t until our own home was built that a glider was installed on the porch. It wasn’t quite the same with railings that were laminate and no paint to peel. And a cement floor would never be as fine as the shiny warm planks that served double duty as a pirate ship.
THANKS TO HEATHER FOR THIS STORY.