Those sun porches warm me still

As the doors burst open, the light flew in. It carried smells of crocuses and mud - overpowering the cellar's smells of drying laundry and dusty coal.

No matter where I go, I carry words from old songs and the smell of wood smoke from a long-ago campfire. I recall the warm moment of holding a newborn puppy and the dark, silent moment of a missed opportunity. Some of these memories lie sleeping; others are forever poking up their heads, begging to be noticed - the trivial tucked in with the momentous.

Naturally, my bundles of memories hold the faces and voices of my parents, my teachers, and my friends. But it seems to me I also carry topography - especially the soft contours of the Adirondack Mountains, where I grew up. I carry that old house on Amherst Avenue in Ticonderoga. I even transport four sun porches.

I remember winter and how, in upstate New York, it backed off in slow, slow steps. First, perfectly good ice rotted on the lakes and ended our skating. Icicles dangling from the eaves, once ripe for picking, wasted away.

Along our street, as the sugar maples hinted green, our mothers hosed gritty sand off the sidewalks just in time for roller-skating. The dads no longer shoveled coal into furnaces in the morning. The radiators quit gasping and hissing; they held magazines instead of wet scarves and mittens.

And I remember how spring danced like a surprise into the corners of our house, into rooms that for months had known only artificial light.

This dancing light came from the sun porch off the living room, a porch sealed away all winter behind curtained double doors lined with furry weather stripping. Those doors were closed so tight it took both my parents to jar them loose.

As the doors burst open, the light flew in. It carried smells of crocuses and mud - smells that overpowered the cellar scents of drying laundry, dusty coal, and a few winy McIntosh apples. After that, another sun porch - the one off the kitchen - awaited its grand opening.

When that happened, it became a kind of greenhouse stacked with trays of tiny seedlings. Lilacs sent perfume by way of the sun porch into the kitchen. The geraniums on the windowsill sprouted buds.

Sun porches! In a land of freezing winters! What had the architect been thinking? As if two porches weren't frivolous enough, the upstairs had two more - useless all winter and all but forgotten until their doors were wrested open in spring.

Their painted floors sloped like the decks of ships; their drafty windows swung inward, like small French doors, poised to brain the person foolish enough to bend under them.

The sun porch off my parents' bedroom held a creaky metal bed covered with an orange-and-white hand-loomed bedspread. I slept there once or twice when company took over my room. Lying in that bed, with rough, shingled walls on one side and open windows on the other, I felt daringly exposed to thunderstorms and wild animals that I figured could easily leap to the second story.

The fourth sun porch opened off my bedroom. It was mine. I swung every window open, remembering (most of the time) not to bend under them. From my bed, I listened to early-morning pigeon melodies. At night, I sometimes heard the drone of an airplane, unusual in Upstate New York at the time.

The newly opened sun porches relaxed the stultifying rules of winter. They promised endless hours for imagining cloud shapes into stories or dancing with fireflies on the lawn.

I've carried my bundles of memories thousands of miles by now, stuffing in new images as I go. The sun porches ride alongside the flash of dolphins in a fjord, whistler swans gliding over a beach that glows with moonstones, a child forming her handprint in plaster of Paris, the trusting eyes of an old dog,

But those Adirondack sun porches exert great power - they're stronger than you'd expect. They account for my odd behavior in March when I throw open doors and windows, insanely soon for the Adirondacks and too soon even here in the Pacific Northwest. Chill breezes spill across my bed from open windows.

My writing desk abuts the windowsill in my office, never mind that the electrical outlets are across the room. The trills of a house finch pipe me outside, where I linger to watch the breeze carve ruffles in the sequoias.

At night, as I gaze at my Oregon stars, fireflies sparkle again under the maples on Amherst Avenue.

My sun-porch memories sometimes nag. "Isn't it time for winter to back off?" They ask this even in the middle of summer. If I don't listen, they continue. "You've been closed up too long," they whisper again and again.

At last, I get it. Those bursting-open doors nag me to bend some rules, look outside myself. Let in new light. At those times, my sun porches ride atop my bundles of memories. Mine to carry - with joy.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor

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