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An Ode to the Lowly Screen Door

The screen door is an icon of my childhood in the 1950s, back in the days when people didn’t have air conditioners. When I was a child, there was a screen door at the front of the house and another at the back. They were also standard at neighborhood grocery stores and gas stations. I remember opening the screen door at the corner store with coins in my hand to buy penny candy.

During summer, the screens allowed for air movement to help keep us cool. They did a mostly-good job of keeping out bugs.

For those of you growing up in later generations, let me describe a screen door: They were constructed of wood and were basically a frame to hold screens. For instance, ours had two large screens, one top and one bottom, separated by a single piece of molding. The screens were tucked into grooves and held in place with a spline cord. The marvelous thing that made it close by itself was a long metal spring. One end was screwed to the door frame, and the other was screwed to the door. When opened, the spring would stretch taut with a squeak, and when the child went running through, the spring would retract and close the door behind him with a jarring slam.

It seems strange now that those screen doors were generally unlocked. If you did want to lock it, the total security system was a latch hook. A determined burglar could have easily cut the screen with a knife and crawled right through, but folks didn’t worry much about that.

We also had screens on every window. My mother had a daily routine from late spring to early fall. Her practice was to keep all the windows wide open, but lower the blinds in the rooms where the sun was beating in. As the sun moved across the sky, my mother moved through the house, adjusting the blinds at each window to keep out the sun’s heat. That was our air conditioning.

As for us kids, our summers were spent playing outdoors, which meant running inside for glasses of water whenever we got thirsty or grabbing an apple when we needed a snack.

I can still hear it clearly in my mind—the sque-e-e-ak of the spring as the door opened, my feet running into the kitchen, and the hard slam as the spring pulled the door shut…followed by my mother’s voice: “Don’t slam the door!”

I’m not sure, but I think it must have been a law for mothers to say that every time.

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