Essay / Gillianne Ross / October 2018

Porch Stories

Written by Gillianne Ross

As a child, I actively sought out stories. I was a walking request of “can you tell me a story” and “what happened next?” Through the various events narrated to me over my childhood, a wide focusing image of 1990’s Burlington was etched into my mind. That image was the front porch.

My mother moved to Burlington at the age of 19, ready to leave behind her small town and the people she had known for far too long. She made the four hour drive from the South of Boston to Queen City, all the while blaring Nirvana’s new album Nevermind from the tape deck. Her journey was prompted by many reasons, one being my father and his wish to return to Burlington to pursue a master’s degree.

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At twelve, I developed a love of hacky sack. Not because I was good at it (I was an uncoordinated mess of limbs) but because I loved the idea of what playing hacky sack could be. One story in particular shaped my love of hacky sack.

Scotty E. came to Burlington by way of Plattsburgh. Scotty A. arrived in the city after an education stint at Castleton. Katherine, Julie, and Andrea were locals. Then there was Diana, who had a double connection to the group, knowing my father from college and Andrea via a mutual friend. The circumstances of everyone meeting is a bit of a cobweb. It was kicked off by Scotty’s request to join a “hack” the others had started in the City Hall Park. Conversations and friendships bloomed from there. My parents came to meet everyone at a party some time in ’92.

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Education plays a supporting role in all of this. Escaping the hamster wheel of high school, my mother emerged from Silver Lake High with a greater appreciation for what she had not learned: how to actually exist. To her, there was always more than Halifax provided. Her escape came in the form of bagels. Julie (there were two Julies for a short period of time) a coworker at Bruegger’s Bagels knew about a party. She invited my mom to come along and bring my dad, Jeff. They entered by way of a porch, as is often done, and proceeded to start a routine of annual parties to come for the next 25 plus years.

There is a picture that I came across in my basement a few years back, while in search of yet more stories. If my parents could not think of any more, then I would find things to prompt them with. What I found was a photo taken in 1993 of my parents, Jeff and Jenn (Jefe and Jenny) sitting together on a Maple Street porch. My mother smiled widely and my dad awkwardly in the midday sunshine. It is from this picture that I see Burlington in a collage of front porches.

The first was on Maple and Church, the second on Church and King, and the third on South Winooski. These were their houses, the ones I would drive by dozens of times without knowing. Those houses educated them in rent, conversation, roommate mishaps, and drunken dancing. It was the porches that held their lives: a little key to what was inside, what was left unsaid, what was desired and achieved.

Behind the porches were engagements and first born children. There were arguments with parents who refused help from their children. There was education in all the acts of living that Silver Lake, Bethlehem Central, Castleton, SUNY Plattsburgh, and Saint Michael’s could never provide.

When I got old enough to identify with the stories being to told to me, formulate a timeline, view the 1990’s as a solid thing of the past, Burlington came into my possession as well. Jeny and Jefe had long since moved from Queen City to Monkton, a tiny Vermont town. However, I was born in Burlington, just as my dad had been. He was born to a woman who lived in Burlington with her roommate Browny. Her own father had lived there while working on the railroad down to Rutland. I have a bloodline in Burlington. I have staples to build my own porch. So I built it piece by piece.

The stories are what came first; they made a picture of what I wanted one day. The music came second. Grunge had raised me from my earliest memories of my mother dancing in our kitchen, and pulled me to my adolescent feet with its bass, guitar, and varying intensity. It fit my moods and it fit my parents. Loud, quiet, loud are what make up a life, and the sooner I realized this, the sooner I could pour my porch’s foundation. Loud is the way my parents came to Vermont in a youthful slam. Quiet is the way time kept going by. Loud is the way a table breaks when you are drunkenly dancing at two in the morning.

Action, is what came last. I kept myself educated and fought through the useless information of Mount Abraham Union High School, that my parents had waded through in their own time, all the while waiting for my real education to arrive. I am still waiting, but I have my staples. I have old addresses and pictures from 1992. I have a blueprint built from hacky sack in the park, friends that throw the same party every year for nearly three decades, and the idea of educating yourself off of daily responsibilities and listening to music at Nectar’s. Loud, quiet, loud, and I am waiting for the down beat.

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