Robert Kirby: In praise of porches — places where neighbors schmooze and thieves ‘shop’

They also are easier to decorate during Christmas than, say, roofs.

Robert Kirby

No one knows who invented the American front porch. Historical researchers agree that the idea caught on sometime in the middle of the 19th century.

Before that, the front of a house consisted of just a door to keep out the dirt and larger vermin. After a long day in the fields, you staggered through it, stuffed a meal into your face, and then immediately fell asleep.

Thanks to advances in technology, Americans eventually found time to sit outside and enjoy the day’s end, watch the kids, and visit with passing neighbors.

The porch was born.

It was fun while it lasted. Porches became less essential with the inventions of television, atom bombs, spy satellites, and other devices that tended to take the fun out of being outdoors.

While on the wane, porches are yet a prominent feature in American architecture. Few people use them in the manner they originally were intended. Today, they serve as large mailboxes. Worse, they attract thieves and provide stationary targets for bangers.

Still, it would be hard to imagine Christmas without them. Porches make excellent places to leave holiday treats, decorate, and visit others without having to actually let them inside.

For several consecutive days now, I have opened the front door to our apartment (which is technically in the back of our daughter’s home) and discovered treats from friends and neighbors.

Since we don’t have what could be mistaken for a porch, these gifts are normally left in the open air. And since we don’t have a doorbell either, we don’t always hear the soft knocks announcing the deliveries.

Judging from the size of the footprints in the snow, many of these deliveries are made by younger folk. This would explain the two liter bottle of ginger ale that detonated after sitting out all night, or the chocolate frozen to the consistency of cubic zirconia.

These days, if you’re a ratbag, porches are also great places to do your Christmas shopping, provided that you’re willing to risk getting beaten up or busted, and the people you’re shopping for don’t necessarily care what you get them.

The moms and wives of thieves are probably accustomed to getting spark plugs, duck waders, washing machine parts, and economy bags of cat litter for Christmas and birthdays. After all, it’s the thought that counts — even if it’s from jail or the hospital.

Personally, I find the best part of having a porch is that it’s a little prefab manger for a Nativity scene. Porches are also easier and safer to decorate.

Gone are the days when I’m stuck on a roof, wrapped in lights, and nervously humming to myself, “all I want for Christmas is to get down alive, to get down alive…”

Robert Kirby is The Salt Lake Tribune’s humor columnist. Follow Kirby on Facebook.