CBS Photo Archive / Contributor

You won't believe the things we've overheard out there.

Valerie Fraser Luesse

If you were raised in the South, you grew up hearing one of two things:

Get up here on this porch right this minute!
(Mama demanded this of errant children making mischief in her yard.)

OR

Get off my porch right this minute!
(This was barked at family dogs with muddy paws. Even in his sleep, ole Beauregard can still hear Mama running him off her front porch. That’s why he sometimes twitches while he naps.)

Mama’s porch is her domain. Those wide-open spaces free her to speak her mind like no place else (not that she was ever demure). Even so, she believes in a certain level of outdoor decorum. You will never hear Mama and Daddy “porch fighting”; any harsh words between them will be spoken privately—indoors, with the windows and doors securely closed. (She’s pretty sure that’s what Emily Post recommends.)

Sometimes, Mama welcomes her guests onto the porch with a little humor. Sons or daughters who haven’t visited as often as they good-and-well know they should might get a lighthearted, yet-barbed, greeting:

Well, look what the cat dragged in! I had about forgotten what you look like.

Members of the Women’s Missionary Union, however, always receive an outpouring of gracious hospitality:

Y’all come on up and have a seat while I put us on a fresh pot of coffee. Who would care for pound cake?

The weather—particularly hot weather—is kind of a sub-genre of porch conversation:

It’s hot as a firecracker.

It’s 90 in the shade.

It’s hot as all get-out. Let’s go fix us a glass of tea. (Where tea is concerned, there’s no need to specify “iced” or “sweet,” as those are givens.)

Also, there will always be the obligatory discussion as to whether Mama’n’em’s discomfort should be attributed to the heat or the humidity. FYI, it’s never the heat; it’s always the humidity. Southern women take pride in being able to stand up to rising mercury, but when the temp finally gets unbearable, they blame the humidity for their abandonment of the front porch and flee to the nearest AC:

Oh, I could stand the heat—y’all know heat’s never bothered me—but this humidity is something else again.

Bottom line: Sometimes Mama’s hot. Sometimes Mama’s cold. But the weather always gives her something to talk about on the front porch. Rain adds another colorful dimension:

I tell you what, it’s coming a toad-strangler.

That’s a real gully-washer falling out there.

And then there’s the wild kingdom:

If that armadillo gets in my daylilies again, he’s gonna be looking at the business end of a shotgun.

Let’s go inside while the mosquitoes are still trying to make up their minds whether to eat us here or carry us off.
*Editor’s Note: If Mama has a mosquito-free screened porch, she will shift the conversation to the bees buzzing around her phlox or that blue jay that keeps bullying her humming birds.

Mama sometimes has home décor issues to discuss with her friends:

Should I go with Charleston-green for my new glider cushions so they won’t show dirt?

I just love my new porch swing—but if Daddy doesn’t squirt some WD-40 on those squeaky chains, I’m gonna have a nervous breakdown.

Plans for many a social event have been hatched on the porch (while peas are being shelled or beans are getting snapped):

I’d rather hoe cotton than serve on her shower committee, but I guess I’ll just have to back my ears and do it.

Tell me what I owe on the centerpieces so I can pay my part.

Are you bringing that orange congealed salad with the cream cheese and carrot curls?

I made four-dozen finger sandwiches and stirred together five gallons of punch this morning. I’m just give out.

Nothing in my closet looks good on me. Don’t you wish they made clothes like they used to?

Let’s not forget Mama’s garden:

I didn’t think I wanted to fool with fall containers on my porch, but then I saw where Home Depot had mums for $10 apiece. So I ran by there and picked up 20.

The last time we all went flower shopping together, we bought so many rose bushes that the SUV smelled like a funeral home.

You know Mama’n’em have had a good time on the porch once you’ve overheard somebody say I laughed so hard, I couldn’t catch my breath.

Finally, after hours of sipping and sharing news—“gossip” is such an ugly word—Mama’s company will begin to disperse. As she sees them off, she will inevitably ask the one question which has become so integral to their parting ritual that a porch visit wouldn’t be the same without it:

Are y’all going straight home or have you got to run by Walmart?