Screen Doors of My Youth

Screen door

By Suzanne Waring

I miss the screen doors of my youth. Yeah, sure, the metal all-weather storm doors of today do a better job of keeping out the winter cold as well as providing fresh air when the glass panel is easily pulled up during the summer, but they don’t have the individual character of the screen doors I passed through when I was a young girl.

The screen doors of the fifties had a sound, look, and smell all of their own. I didn’t have to raise my head to see which door someone had just come through because the spring on each screen door in our farmhouse had its own distinctive sound.

Of course, we children never bothered to hold the door as we shut it. Life was too short, and we were in a hurry. We would fly through the door and be down the hall before the door slammed shut. “Don’t bang that door!” our mother admonished.

Every now and then, wind during a storm would grab hold of a screen door that hadn’t been properly latched and slam it against the wall of the house. The rusty, worn spring would break. When a new spring was installed, we had to learn to recognize the noise of a different creak as the new spring expanded and compressed each time the door was opened.

In that day, there were two types of screen doors. The first commercial, lighter weight type with filigree. They were fancy though they often sagged and dragged on the doorframe—especially after some child had ventured to swing on it, while imagining they were flying like Superman. Second, the kind of screen doors that lasted longer was homemade of sturdy straight boards with no decoration.

We gained entrance to our back-screened porch by way of one of those sturdier straight-boarded screen doors. The distance from the top step to the handle made it impossible for small children to open the heavy door on their own. The metal handle had been positioned for the convenience of adults, and the gap between the bottom of the screen door and the frame was far too tight for children to dig out the edge of the door with their little fingers. That meant that the little ones stayed outside until some patient soul would come to the porch to open the screen after hearing their plea.

This was especially frustrating to my sister when she was around two years old. She had learned to shake her head “no” but hadn’t conquered the next step in nodding her head “yes.” She shook her head “no” for all responses. When she came to the screen door, my brother would stand above her on the porch as if he were the door troll and ask if she wanted in. When she shook her head, “no,” he would walk off, leaving her there, crying.

Finally, my father installed another handle at the bottom of the screen door so my little sister could get in without assistance. That handle was still there and ready for the grandchildren when they came along years later.

People probably painted screen doors different colors, but I remember mainly dark green and flat black. When the paint started to wear off, the natural wood beneath began to show. Today, we would call that antiquing; then we were embarrassed because the appearance to us was tacky.
The screen door would have a worn appearance for another reason. Often the family cat, wanting to come in, would crawl up on the door and would eventually tear a hole in the screen. An evaluation of the screen door was made each spring. A tacky-looking door wasn’t reason enough to spend the money and time to fix it, but keeping out the flies would send my parents to town for replacement screen.

Personally, I liked the old-worn screen because it was filled with dust. It smelled like summer rain drops hitting hot dirt -one of my favorite smells. Because that smell was always clinging to the screen, I didn’t have to wait until a shower came along to enjoy that pungent earthy scent.
Every now and again, I happen onto an old-fashioned screen door, such as at someone’s summer cabin or a historical country home. When I hear the comforting sound of the spring as the screen door creaks open, memories flood back to the coming and going of my family as they moved through each busy day many years ago. MSN

Through her articles Dr. Suzanne Waring shares what she has learned through meeting remarkable contemporaries as well as researching those who are no longer with us. She also tries to call attention to the ordinary by making it extraordinary.

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