Summer announces itself with a ‘crack!’

For me, the most enjoyable screen door is a wooden one.

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff
Rex, a Westie, in Little Compton, R.I.

The advent of warm weather here in Maine calls for a seasonal ritual that, for me, puts the exclamation point on winter’s end  –  fetching the wooden screen door.

Note that I wrote “wooden.” The aluminum models just won’t do it  –  they close too neatly and retain their perfect form for decades. But I came of age in the 1960s, a time of imperfection. There was no perfect house, no perfect car, no perfect kids or parents. Why should a screen door be an exception?

I grew up with my siblings in a working-class neighborhood in urban, industrial New Jersey. When the warm weather arrived, my dad would go out to the garage, haul out the wooden screen door, and install it over the back door, which could then be left wide open, admitting a refreshing breeze (we had no air conditioning). 

My father was a Mr. Fix-it par excellence, so keeping the screen door serviceable was one of his indulgences. Every few years he gave it a fresh coat of paint (picket-fence green), reinforced the rickety joints, and patched the screen with Scotch tape. I distinctly remember him putting the last screw in the last hinge, stepping back, and swinging the door shut with a solid, woody “crack!” 

A good, rattly, wooden screen door, unsightly as it was, had an invaluable function in the age of the stay-at-home mom: It alerted her to the coming and going of the kids (at a time when children played outside). I don’t have to close my eyes to see myself, my siblings, and my friends running in and out of the house, tearing the screen door open and letting it slap shut behind us. Ten times a day? Fifty? A hundred? It was all good, and my mom never complained about the noise, because that was the purpose of a wooden screen door  –  to slam shut and thereby announce that her children were within earshot.

Flash forward: Several years ago, in a fit of nostalgia, I went shopping for a wooden screen door. I was disappointed in the choices available. They looked a bit too solid, too well made. But I found one online, and within a week it was delivered to my doorstep. 

The firm had sent me one with the wrong dimensions, however –  too wide and too tall. So I asked my carpenter to make the necessary adjustments. Ozzie worked away at it for a couple of hours until he got it to sit neatly in its frame. I stood back, looked it over, and then gave it the acid test: I pulled it open and let go. It closed in a lazy fashion, like royalty lying down on silk sheets. 

“Not good,” I pronounced. “No slap factor. Please remove the automatic door closer and adjust the door so it swings shut with a good crack.”

Ozzie rolled his eyes. “But I’ll have to change the set of the hinges and shave some more off the bottom to get it to close like that.”

“Please proceed.”

I watched as Ozzie grudgingly went about his work, emanating a clear sense that our values were at odds. Be that as it may, a short while later the task was done. We both stepped back and looked it over. The door was slightly askew, uneven in its frame, and the screen no longer lay flat. But when I pulled open the door and released it, the thing clapped shut like a rifle shot. 

“What do you think?” I asked.

“It looks like hell,” said Ozzie.

“But it sounds like heaven,” I said. And I, being the owner of the door  –  and the memory  –  had the final word.

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