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Today is September 16, 2021

Mississippi Seen

The front porches of Taylor and our past

By Walt Grayson

The front porches of Taylor and our past

Most people have never explored south of Highway 6 at Oxford unless they were looking specifically for a catfish dinner at Taylor Grocery. Or wanting to find a piece of original art from one of the fine artists who have taken up residence in the tiny village of Taylor. But now, nearly 100 new families have moved to Taylor into Plein Air, one of the most interesting concept neighborhoods in Mississippi.

Plein Air is a French art term that refers to a 19th-century style of painting denoting a strong sense of open-air made popular in French impressionism. (I Googled it.) So, the artsy name “Plein Air” for the neighborhood is a nod to the artists who live in Taylor.

But you don’t have to be an artist to live at Plein Air. Most residents aren’t. But most people living there have at least one thing in common. They desire a simpler lifestyle. At least when they get home after work.

That’s what Plein Air’s original resident, Campbell McCool, had in mind when he moved back to Mississippi and put shovel to dirt and built his house there. And the one accoutrement he mandated that his and all other houses at Plein Air must-have is a front porch. Front porches invite neighborliness, hospitality and relaxation.

Front porches used to be automatic on Southern houses prior to the 1940s, according to Campbell. It was because it gets so hot here. The porch was a place to escape the heat. Plus, it added livable square footage to a house. And a lot of living happened on the front porch. Campbell reminded me of all the scenes from “The Andy Griffith Show” in Mayberry that took place on the front porch. Serious talks with Opie happened on the front porch. When Barney courted Thelma Lou, it was on Andy’s front porch.

Air conditioning and television sent people inside and made front porches old fashion in the 50s, 60s and into the 70s. Decks popped up in back yards instead. People no longer knew their neighbors. Sociologists tell us the character of our neighborhoods changed as well. And not for the better.

My favorite childhood memory of a front porch was my grandmother’s. It was used a good bit, especially during family reunions. It caught the overflow from inside the house. Her house was not air-conditioned and she didn’t have a television. So especially in summertime after supper, the grown-ups, particularly the smokers, hit the porch while us kids hit the yard and chased lightning bugs. I still see in my mind a glowing red ember of light making a slow ark as a smoker sat on a swing on the porch at night. It was family.

When I built my house, it had to have a front porch like grandma’s. The porch had to have a swing at either end, just like her’s. That’s as close as I ever got. I never have time to sit on it.

 

Walt Grayson is the host of “Mississippi Roads” on Mississippi Public Broadcasting television and the author of two “Looking Around Mississippi” books and “Oh! That Reminds Me: More Mississippi Homegrown Stories.” Walt is also a reporter and 4 p.m. news anchor at WJTV in Jackson. He lives in Brandon and is a Central Electric member. Contact him at walt@waltgrayson.com.

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