Loran Smith: My Back Porch

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Loran Smith: My Back Porch

Loran Smith
Loran Smith

Traditionally, a house without a porch would be like having a car without a radio.

I spent the early part of my youth in a rambling house that had a rust-red tin roof and a porch that meandered halfway around the house.  My brother and I could ride our tricycles around the old porch at breakneck speed, provided we avoided a collision with the swing which was anchored about midpoint.





We also had a screened-in porch that connected the main house to the kitchen and dining room.  That was our den.  It is where we relaxed in the heat of the day, hoping for a breeze to wash over us as we listened to country music on the radio and small talked.  When neighbors came to see us, it was that porch that became a forum for lively conversation.  The dastardly sinners who seemed to hold sway in the world, the preacher at a rural church in the adjoining country who had had an affair, the best bargain at the Piggly Wiggly grocery, parity, and the Brooklyn Dodgers doing the unthinkable—integrating baseball by signing Jackie Robinson to a major league contract.  Much to the regret of many, Robinson had proven that he could compete with the best.  Nobody was impressed when I reminded them that Robinson was born in Cairo in deep South Georgia.

When we moved into the house where we live today, there was a small side porch that we considered inadequate for socializing.  At the first opportunity, we enlarged our quarters with a nice den and a screen porch.

That porch has given us enduring pleasure.  With a ceiling fan, the porch is comfortable almost year-round.  It is a comfortable place to be on the hottest July day.   Even in the late fall, it is a nice spot to repair to my favorite rocker and enjoy a cup of coffee in the morning and a glass of wine in the evening.





That porch has been the scene of some interesting gatherings over the years.  The most memorable came Labor Day weekend in September 1982.

At the time, the ABC network had an open date before starting its Monday night slate of NFL games.  They filled the scheduling void by scheduling a matchup of two outstanding college teams.

Since Georgia had won the national title in 1980 and Clemson had taken the prize in 1981, ABC matched the two most recent national champions on Labor Day, a matchup that brought national headlines.

Georgia put in lights for the game to help consummate the deal.  The network even participated in financing the cost of the lights.   Herschel Walker was in his third year but had suffered a broken thumb in practice.  His status, will he play or won’t he, dominated the headlines. 

While in Athens, at that time, one could buy liquor by the drink, the restaurants were nothing to rave about.  I knew that the ABC crew would soon arrive with limited menu options, particularly on Sunday night, the eve of the big game.

Bill Hartman, longtime chairman of the athletic scholarship fund, was sensitive to such circumstances and was eager to help.  My wife, Myrna, and I agreed to host a dinner, catered by Lee Epting, who was making a name for himself as a caterer of renown.

The guest list included these iconic broadcasters:  Keith Jackson, popular play-by-play announcer, from Roopville on the West side of the state, Frank Broyles, his color man, a native of Decatur, along with Jim Lampley and Jack Whitaker, the classic TV essayist.  Whitaker was bowled over by the collegiate environment, the small-town gentry connected with college football.  

After supper, they all took to our back porch for after-dinner drinks and conversation.  It was raconteur hour at its finest.  Keith sidled up to me when the evening came to a close and whispered, “My company really appreciates this my friend.”  That dinner approval was a high moment of my UGA days.

Recently a similar scene took place when Verne Lundquist, the long-time CBS announcer, who still calls the Masters golf tournament for the network, took up residence on our back porch, sitting in the same seat where Keith Jackson sat 30 years prior.  He and his longtime friend, Steve Hatchell, CEO of the National Football Foundation, charmed our guests with their stories the way that Keith and his gang did in 1983.

One of the guests, John Claster of Naples, Fla., called upon returning home and said that he was “homesick’ for our back porch.  We have had others to share their classic storytelling on that porch through the years, including Jerry Kramer of the Green Bay Packers and announcer Mike Tirico.  Only if I had recorded them all.





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