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The old screen door and family life

June 1, 2017
By Joyce Schenk , Westfield Republican

Now that the attractive and efficient aluminum storm doors have taken over, we've lost the old wooden screen door, an unsung participant in the ongoing drama of family life.

I still recall the door closing techniques of each member of my family.

Dad's return from work was always punctuated by slamming of the screen, followed by the announcement to anyone in ear shot, "I'm home!" It was the acknowledged pre-dinner call to the family. We knew the evening meal would be on the table within 15 minutes.

Unlike dad's entrance, when my sister, Lynn, was trying to sneak in late from a date, the door would open and close almost silently. Almost. But, with the acute hearing of a parent-on-duty, mom detected the all but imperceptible squeak of the door and was instantly on her feet.

When my brothers returned from a hard day of being teenagers, the door would close with a resounding bang. That arresting sound was quickly followed by an urgent, "What's for dinner? I'm starving!"

As the youngest in the tribe, I found the screen door simply a minor obstacle between me and the vast outside world. My only thought was to pass as quickly as possible from in to out. Whatever happened to the screen door during the passage, so be it.

Most families installed what was considered a state-of-the-art security system on their screen doors. These hook-and-eye latches were, and still are, readily available from the local hardware store. The less-than-intimidating lock was little match for an adult who wanted to enter. A really hard tug, administered by a grownup determined to get in, would usually pull one of the sections of the latch from its mount on door or jam.Though it didn't hinder adults, the hook-and-eye lock was very effective against children. One of our often repeated family stories involves just such a situation.

The tale, handed down for at least three generations, involved my mother's little sister, Virginia, and their Aunt Rose.

Rose, an overly cautious spinster of advanced years, always made a habit of latching the screen against imagined intruders. She followed the routine whether she was at home or staying with relatives.

At the time, little Virginia was a child of four or five. As with most kids of that age, she hated to stop playing for anything less than a full-blown emergency. She often waited to answer the call of nature until the last moment. Then it was a mad dash to the house.

One day, the story goes, Aunt Rose was visiting mom's family. As was her habit, she made sure the screen was latched as soon as the children went out to play.

Virginia, responding at the last instant to nature's call, rushed to the door, only to find it locked. She yelled and pounded in frustration until Aunt Rose finally came to investigate.

There, standing in a growing puddle, was Virginia, sobbing accusingly, "You see what you made me do!"

Thus another family drama was etched in memory, thanks to that vanishing treasure, the old screen door.

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