Front porch couple's refuge from the world

Wednesday, August 5, 1998

The Cincinnati Enquirer

A matched set of green rocking chairs sat side by side. Their occupants slowly rocked back and forth, creaking the floorboards of the shade-cooled porch.

A slight breeze played a lazy serenade on a set of wind chimes. One by one, the day's troubles floated away.

It was porch-time at the Cepluch house, site of this week's "Lunch with Cliff."

"Welcome to our 13th room," Vanessa Cepluch said. "Have a seat."

She pointed to a wicker chair. Her husband, David, nodded hello and kept on rocking.

Creeeeeak. Creeeeeak. Their chairs rocked in unison.

"From April through October, you can find us out here," Vanessa said.

The Cepluchs had a pizza waiting for this week's lunch. They meet here for their midday meal on their off days and any workdays both can make it home. It's the best place to talk about the things that matter.

Contentment found

Vanessa wanted to talk to me about the front porch that welcomes visitors to her 92-year-old home in Latonia. When she's out there, sitting and rocking, she feels totally contented.

"This is where I rewind," she said. "I get wound up easily. So I come out here to relax. "Rewind,' I call it."

Vanessa had the day off from Procter & Gamble Co. "I've worked downtown for 22 years," she said.

"I'm just a secretary," she added. "Nobody likes that word anymore. But that's what I am. I answer phones, make plane reservations. I'm 'Nessa, the secretary."

On this day, she was Vanessa of the front porch. There was no phone to answer. "I don't hear it if it rings." There were no modern inventions, radios or TVs in sight. The Cepluchs maintain their porch -- as well as their home's hardwood floors, woodwork and gleaming brass light fixtures -- as it was when the house was built in 1906.

"We talk about everything on the porch," Vanessa said. "It's our time alone together," David added.

Rocking together, they talk about the joys Vanessa's 16-year-old daughter, Jasmine, has given them. They discuss David's job prospects. He sold car parts until his job was downsized in June.

The Cepluchs talk a lot about the house they bought in 1994 from the grandchildren of the original owner. "You'll think I'm weird," Vanessa said. "But I always get choked up when we do."

She remembers growing up across the street from this house and "wondering what it would feel like to live there." Now she knows. "It feels like home."

Sometimes, David and Vanessa eat lunch in silence on their porch. "I can sit here and listen to the birds, look at my flowers or just watch the traffic go by," Vanessa said. "It makes everything bad go away. I just hope the neighborhood can stay the same so I can keep sitting on my front porch forever."

Last week, three Latonia kids were wounded during a drive-by shooting as they played on their front porch. The gunfire broke out 10 blocks from the Cepluchs' green rockers. The couple saw the Air Care helicopter land in a parking lot across the street from their porch.

"I feel bad for those kids," Vanessa said. "I hope their sense of safety isn't gone. Latonia isn't a bad place. Late at night, it's really, really quiet."

Porch of peace

A flatbed truck loaded with sections of railroad tracks rumbled past as Vanessa spoke. Seconds later, the street was deserted, and we could hear two songs of summer, a locust's call and the clank of a bicycle chain.

"See how relaxing this is?" Vanessa said. "Everybody needs time to sit down and enjoy their surroundings."

From his corner rocker, David told of seeing the opposite. "People are too damned busy running around, spending their money. I don't know if porch-sitting is productive. But it sure is relaxing." Vanessa and David Cepluch may not make tons of money. Their house may be pushing 100.

But they know where they're content. They've found happiness right on their own front porch.

Columnist Cliff Radel can be reached at 768-8379; fax 768-8340.