Sitting outside still lots of fun

BYLINE: SIBLEY, CELESTINE  STAFF
DATE: May 5, 1986
PUBLICATION: The Atlanta Journal and The Atlanta Constitution
EDITION: The Atlanta Constitution
SECTION: FEATURES
PAGE: B/1

Columnist Celestine Sibley writes: Lately, we’ve been having wonderful yard-sitting weather in North Georgia. The days have been hot, but along about sunset, a cool breeze springs up and stirs around in the tops of shade trees and sweetens the air with a breath from the old wild rose at the edge of the yard. One of the fine things about yard-sitting is the kind of friends who join you. Celestine Sibley

Every now and then, somebody writes a piece about the demise of the front porch. (Front gallery, we used to call it in South Alabama.) I always felt great rapport for mourners for a past amenity like the front porch, until I began to notice that many of the new houses being built in my area are pseudo-Victorian numbers with not one, but many porches. They are spacious and airy and inviting but, oddly enough, I have never seen anybody sitting on them gossiping, drinking lemonade, shelling pe as – or just sitting.

It leads me to believe that powerful persuader to indoor living, the air-conditioner, did in the front porch, just as it has almost done in shade tree-sitting and visiting. You hardly ever see families gathered on Sunday afternoon, after dinner, under the shade of the oak trees in the front yard. They are inside cooling by that cold air purveyor and watching television.

Well, I won’t dispute their right to be comfortable, particularly in fly and gnat season.

But here lately, we’ve been having wonderful yard-sitting weather in North Georgia. The days have been hot, but along about sunset, a cool breeze springs up and stirs around in the tops of shade trees and sweetens the air with a breath from the old wild rose at the edge of the yard. There’s even the faint scent of the magnolia down in the hollow and the damp fragrance of newly watered flower beds and baskets.

Yard’s good too

It’s still too cool for bugs to be out in any appreciable numbers, and dust from the road, which has been a problem during this season of prolonged drought, has had a chance to settle by nightfall. So we yard-sit at Sweet Apple, and I want to report that it’s lovely. In due time, we will have heard our old friend the whippoorwill, or his descendants, sounding back in the woods. (He used to come to the chimney, but he’s been shy since suburbia set in.)

One of the fine things about yard-sitting is the kind of friends who join you. To go in the house and sit in a chair bespeaks a planned, on-purpose visit. But to stroll into the yard and take a chair is so easy and casual, you don’t even have those get-ready-for-company fidgets.

The other afternoon, our friend, Barry Etris, came and yard-sat a while, and it made us homesick for the days when one of our first friends in the country, Mr. Lum Crow, would wander up the road with his banjo, which he called, “my racket box,” swung around his neck.

Barry did exactly as Mr. Crow would have done. He sat and visited about happenings in the settlement, recalling old times when friends of his parents and grandparents plowed the fields around Sweet Apple, and it was said moonshining went on along the creek banks. We laughed over the exploits of long-gone neighbors and mourned the loss of good friends.

An old song

And just as dusk was settling in, Barry picked up his guitar and played us a tune or two. We asked for his big hits, of course, the ones that have gone on to fame and fortune with Kenny Rogers and the Kingston Trio. “Reuben James” and “Lum Crow” have always been favorites among Barry’s many compositions. We recalled how Mr. Crow’s daughter, Olivia Johnson, always played “Barbara Allen” for us, and Barry softly strummed a chord or two.

“Sing it!” we urged. And he smiled and gave us a few of its multiplicity of verses, ending with the one about Barbara’s death and the briar from her grave entwining with the rose from her lover’s grave.

Because his mother, who first taught him to pick the guitar and sing, liked it, he hit a Jimmie Rodgers song, one that brought tears to my eyes because my father had liked it, too.

“I’d rather drink muddy water,” sang Barry, “sleep in a hollow log . . . I’d rather drink muddy water, sleep in a hollow log, than to live in Atlanta, treated like a dirty dog!”

And then, although he said he never learned to do it, Barry yodeled, sweetly, merrily, mournfully, just like Jim Rodgers.

Who needs air conditioning and television with yard-sitting like that?