Are you, or do you know, a middle-aged woman with an empty nest? Then you may need to learn about the dangers of Porch Sign Syndrome, a common and serious problem which causes the afflicted to purchase a variety of wooden signs to place around their home. These signs are easy to obtain: they can be purchased by anyone at a craft fair, in any store styled a “boutique” or “antique mall” in any small town, and through legions of original Etsy sellers. Colors are muted, surfaces are distressed with crackle paint and sand paper. The signs express a philosophy of the simple lifestyle; they advocate the enjoyment of beverages and the forgetting of worries. The rate at which baby boomers are purchasing porch signs in this country has tripled in recent years, probably, and it’s up to every concerned citizen to recognize the symptoms and stop this epidemic. What follows is a guide to recognizing the categories of Porch Signs.
"Take a nap!"
"Rest and chat!"
"Sit a spell!"
These are all general porch rules. There are others, which range from the generic ("Relax!") to the tasteless ("No Peein’ Off The Porch!"). Failure to follow porch rules may result in ostracization, and it may result in nothing at all. Porch rules signs can contain anywhere from 1 to 50 rules, or however many ways there are to tell a person to chill out. Porch rules signs also dictate the beverages you are expected to enjoy on the porch. Is this a beer porch or a lemonade porch? You won’t know unless you read the signs. Is there a weathered old Coca Cola bottle opener screwed to the wall, with a sign above it containing some stereotypical statement about Irish people and laziness, with big foamy mugs of beer painted next to the words? Congratulations, this is a beer porch! Is there a framed cross-stitch of little birdies that says, “A Kind Word Is Never Wasted”? That is probably not a beer porch. Look around for the glass pitcher of lemonade. Lemonade is all you’re getting on this porch.
Signs of a more pushy nature also belong in the porch rules category. The sign on the little wooden bench that says “Grandkids Only” in mock childlike handwriting next to a rusty watering can with fake tulips in it, when there are no grandkids, is still technically a rule. It’s also a really annoying way to remind you of what you’re supposed to be doing with your life.
Relaxation brings a lot of things to the surface, like deep quotes about life. Most often, it’s a line from a famous poet, or a line attributed to a famous poet. I’m pretty sure Walt Whitman never said “Life Is Better On The Porch,” unless maybe it was summer and he was talking to a good friend and he didn’t really mean it or, for that matter, suspect that his friend was about to write it down and sell it to a porch sign company. Other quotes will be from unrecognizable sources, and people will read them (something about enjoying life to the fullest! Martinis! Chocolate! Sunglasses!) and they will chuckle politely and think, who is Zerf Bladnor? I should probably know who that is… hope nobody notices that I don’t know who that is.
Join the Club!
This variety is meant to inspire camaraderie. It’s safe here! We’re all friends! Taken too far, it can encourage the keeping of the dark and shameful secret that is Porch Sign Syndrome. Though it might seem welcoming, becoming a member of the "Front Porch Club" can be a binding legal agreement. Be careful. Always take note of your surroundings: if you see a sign for the Porch Sitters Union, and you’re sitting on the porch, you’ve officially become a member. "Leave Your Cares Behind”—that’s an order. "Sit Long. Talk Much. Laugh Often”: even if you don’t really want to, you have to. You joined up. It’s too late. And it's usually posted somewhere nearby that "What Happens On The Porch Stays On The Porch", so really, we shouldn’t even be talking about this right now.
There is generally a flower garden near the porch. This can be a row of store-bought potted marigolds that were dropped into a hole in the front yard last Saturday, or an elaborate arrangement of rose bushes and ferns. These porch signs will boast the wonders and joy of tending a suburban home garden. "Gardeners Get To Stay In Their Beds All Day!" "It's Cheaper Than Therapy… And You Get Tomatoes!" (The thing you don't get, though, is therapy. You have to pay for that, and then you have to go once a week, and talk to someone about how your mom won't stop buying all these goddamn signs and it's really making you sad all the time.)
Several other symptoms of Porch Sign Syndrome may manifest in the form of wine bottle sculptures, miniature wheelbarrows, old-timey wrought-iron baby carriages, a rake that's flipped upside down and made to look like a Santa face, or stone geese with an outfit for every holiday. These items can appear on or near a porch at any time.
It may take some time for the average porch sign addict to stop purchasing and displaying these in an attempt to fill the void of your absence with wooden proclamations about “The Good Life.” Change doesn't happen overnight. But it can happen. This can be cured. Maybe you should point out that most of the signs advocate an easy life, the opposite of a life with several small children, which still other signs advocate. Maybe you should point out that several of the signs fall down when the wind blows, and isn’t it kind of a pain in the ass to pick up the one that commands you to “Enjoy the Breeze!” for the 1000th time? Maybe you should just refuse to go in any store with your mom that’s deliberately made up to look faux time-worn, with dollies made of corn husks smiling stupidly in the windows? Maybe you should just say, “Why can’t you stop buying this shit?”
Even with your best efforts, relapses can occur. Do not be discouraged. Years after overcoming this affliction, your mother may hand you a tiny smooth rock into which someone has carved “FAMILY” and say, smiling, her eyes sparkling with the glittery, nostalgic tears of Christmases past, “Isn’t that neat?!” And you will have to say, “Not really.”
Jona Whipple is a writer by day, librarian by night, and sometimes the other way around. She lives in Chicago and blogs at cupcakeheartbreak.com about all the stuff that happens to her.