The Kids' Secret Screen-Door Games

The screen door had lost its umph over the last year. Instead of closing with the resilience of a rubber band and banging shut like a car backfiring, when opened, it would hesitate at the pinnacle of its half-circle, like a diver in mid air, and stutter to a soft thud in its wooden frame.

When Mom yelled at me to pick up my baseball glove lying in the backyard, or a summer squall blackened the sky, I would yank open the door with as much force as I could muster, run out into the yard, grab the glove, and run back in without having to reopen the door.

We kids, like small Einsteins, invented a screen-door game. It kept us entertained for such long periods of time that when we arrived in Mom's study afterward, our clothes revealing little dirt, she'd look up from her accounting books and say, ``You guys sure have been good.''

And then, with the same look she gave Dad whenever he brought her flowers or breakfast in bed, she'd ask, ``What have you been up to?''

``Nothin' much, Mom. Just playin'.'' Chip, the firstborn, was our spokesman.

Mom scanned our small crowd of five, her eyes settling for a long moment on each of our faces. By my turn, my scalp tingled and I felt a giggle forming in my throat like tiny soap bubbles.

Her eyes stopped on Mike, the baby, who gave her his sweet little grin, and she went back to her books with a shake of her head, the corners of her mouth turned up slightly. We were home with all our teeth, fingers, and toes.

What Mom didn't know was that three blocks of kids had been running in and out the back screen door. The designated runner stood behind the white line chalked on the cement walkway.

One of the kids prepared the runner with ``On Your Mark! Get Set! Go!'' The runner dashed to the screen door, yanked it open with all his might, touched the furnace in the laundry room, ran out the door, touched the chalk mark, and sprinted to tag the furnace again. The kid who ran in and out the greatest number of times before the door closed won.

We played this game only when Mom was somewhere distant in the house, in her study, or making beds. Sometimes, she strolled the neighborhood with Mrs. Oakley, who kept Mom away for hours with her gossip. In those days of blue- sky freedom, we were at that chalked-on white line, waiting to be called to our starting positions.

MEANWHILE, Mom was wondering why there were so many flies in the house.

``Clyde,'' she would say to my Dad, ``you've got to fix that door. I'm tired of these nasty flies all over.''

One day while we were at Bible School, Dad did a chore that took months to get around to and five minutes to accomplish. In those few minutes, the time it takes for a summer squall to blacken a clear-blue sky or for a moving car to dissipate a glimmering mirage of water on July blacktop, the magical qualities children attribute to even the most ordinary items lose their effervescence and evaporate.

To my Dad, to most adults, a mirage of water was just heat waves, and a broken screen door just needed to be fixed.

He took out his screwdriver, tightened the hinges, and oiled them. The screen door, once again, closed with the resilience of a rubber band and banged shut like a car backfiring.

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