our old cement porch: this too shall pass

Today was the first day of the demolition of our beloved old porch. It was an absurd porch: made of cement, attached to a house made of wood, with rickety stairs and railing. When we moved in 16 years ago, in 1997, the cement was uneven in the middle and when it rained a pool of water collected in the middle, and we always had to sweep it off. It was a lot of work and a nuisance. So I asked the property manager if we could drill a hole in the cement to drain the water, and he arrived, bless his heart, took a very officious look at it and declared that if the water was drained it would be bad for the foundation. However, there was no foundation under the porch. Only earth and rocks. Nevertheless, being new tenants we did not wish to argue with him, and accepted his edict that he would send over a handyman to take care of the problem.

Well, the solution was worse than the problem. The German handyman could not speak a word of English, and didn’t engage with body language either. In one of the oddest house repairs I have ever seen, he covered the cement porch with torch-on roofing. He used a torch [naturally] and some heavy duty industrial glue, perhaps tar, to melt it into place. We tried to question him with gestures and a few words of German that we knew, but he didn’t respond and went about doing his deed. When he was finished our porch was covered in black tar. It was ugly and awful; awful to look at and awful to walk on. In the middle of summer, it heated up and the tar would melt a bit and stick to our feet. The roofing material had also been overlapped so there were large bumpy seams on our porch. Sometimes we tripped over them. We actually missed the cement and kicked ourselves for letting this happen. We should have just drilled a hole without asking anyone. It would have harmed nothing and our problem would have been solved.

The following 2-3 years we painted the torch-on roofing every year. First we found a brilliant blue paint, very exotic and Mexican looking, and that started chipping the first summer.  The next year we found heavy duty marine paint at the recycling depot, free, but it was not very durable. It started chipping with time, as furniture scraped, our footsteps and the weather left its marks. Through the red marine paint we could see the blue, and beyond that we could see the black roofing. Soon it started to get a lovely pattern of colours and textures, with layers of paint chipping and scuff marks from people digging their heels into soft tar. Lots of geraniums and petunia to add to the palette. Interesting rocks, shells, garage sale lawn furniture and animal bones decorated the porch. It was a canvas, an uneven canvas, and we continued for the next 15 years to sweep the water off every time it rained.

It was lovely in its own right.


We had countless parties, dinners, drinks, with hundreds of people, if not thousands over the years, visiting and admiring the sunset, the deer, the ocean, the trees, and congratulating us for living in paradise. Nobody noticed or cared about the strange deck. It seemed to match the off-the-beaten-track our lives looked like. We congratulated ourselves on our good fortune, and were in deep gratitude, to our landlords, to nature, to life itself, for the gift of our time here on this porch, in this house, surrounded by love and laughter and life. We gave our porch to everyone.

Sometimes we slept on the porch and looked up at starry skies. I think I will do that tonight. One last time on the cement porch, I will put out a mattress, get my duvets and stare up at the night sky. Maybe I will see some falling stars, while the occasional misguided seagull squawks and deer munch on the wisteria tree we had to lay down on the ground for awhile.


On Monday a cement driller will come and break up the cement, demolish it, and remove the pieces to be disposed of. In ten days or so we will have a brand new wooden deck, classy, with glass along the railings, elegantly framing our West Coast cedar deck. No water will collect as it will intelligently drain between the boards. There will be no hot tar to sink our heels into, no roofing seams to fall over. When I sweep, the pine needles will fall between the boards. There will be no motley designs with bright blue and red paint over black. It will be sleek and lovely and mainstream. I will still sleep on it in the summer and I will no doubt still have hundreds of people come to visit me and I will entertain them with good food, wine and tales, and the breathtaking views of water, mountains and sunsets. They won’t notice the new cedar deck or miss the old one. The sea lions will continue to bark all winter, and the eagles will continue to soar as they always have. The geraniums will grow as they did last month. My old decrepit porch will be a very sweet story, tucked away in the folds of my nostalgia.