Bring Back Honest-To-Goodness Screen Doors

Tom Poland

Posted 12/13/23

By Tom Poland
A Southern Writer

With winter knock, knock, knocking on their door, people are thinking of storm doors and weather stripping. Well, drafty old screen doors occupy my mind. Recent back-road expeditions have taken me across vintage screen doors—the original air conditioning—that resurrect memories of old stores and home.

Vintage screen doors may soon be gone with the wind. In a time when pneumatic rods keep aluminum-fiberglass doors from slamming shut, a screen door’s definition doesn’t do it justice. “A screen door can refer to a hinged storm door or hinged screen door covering an exterior door or a screened sliding door used with sliding glass doors. A screen door incorporates screen mesh to block birds, flying insects or seeds or leaves from entering, while allowing for air, light, and views.” —Wikipedia.

Colorless. Dry as dust. The sound of summer deserves a better description. “A screen door closes with a ker-slap-thwack. It lets the fragrance of rain in and grandma’s fried apple pies out. It keeps mosquitoes at bay, but gives the sounds and smells of summer free passage.”

I polled readers for their screen door thoughts. See if their memories don’t sound familiar.

In one door and out the other to a ker-slap-thwack. (Photo by Tom Poland)

“I can hear the sound of those old screen doors now.”

“Love the sound those doors make. You know there’s worn wooden floors and a cold drink inside.”

“I fondly remember the sound as it slammed and bounced back.”

For one reader, the sound of the screen door brought peace of mind. “I love the quiet squeak of a screen door. It meant daddy made it home. He worked as a lineman for the power company when I was a child. His being home safe meant I could fall asleep.”

Another reader had a new door built but couldn’t do without that unmistakable slam. “My neighbor told me she loved to hear my screen door slam. A few weeks ago I had to have a new door. It didn’t slam when the carpenter finished. I told him it must slam because my neighbor liked it, that it wasn’t summer in the South if my screen door didn’t slam. He fixed it, and it really slams now.”

Other memories speak to simpler times. “We never had to lock screen doors, especially in the heat of summertime.”

Summertime meant mosquitoes and flies. In my mind I see screen doors with puffs of cotton denying insects entrance. One person confessed. “I probably was the one making the hole.”

Vintage stores? Their screen doors and breads made a pairing. “Seems I remember Colonial Bread signs more than any others on the doors.” Merita and Sunbeam found a place on them. Coca Cola and RC Cola did too. Pepsi? Probably. And one reader remembers evidence of friendlier times. “I love how there was always a bench in front of these old stores.”

Some of us would like a vintage screen door still. “I put one on my front door,” said a reader. “Wish I could have found an old one.”

An old one. We had one. Dad ran a spring from it to the doorframe. “Watch your foot. It shuts pretty fast.” A reader referred to that spring as a coil. “The coil we had on our mountain cabin screen porch door would snap that door shut.”

Screen door manners were important. Said one reader, “Slamming and banging in and out of grandma’s door 10 times daily would result in a swift switching.”

Those old doors couldn’t take slamming. They’d get all cattywampus and a wampus cat might sneak in, a story for another day. Dad ran an adjustable tension rod from corner to corner to keep the door squared and stable. A screen door required a bit of elbow grease. Looking back, it was a labor of love.

I miss those friendly doors. Perhaps you do too. Will they make a comeback? I doubt it. An old screen door would look out of place on modern architecture just as storm doors look odd on a log cabin or old columned mansion.

As time passes, vintage screen doors will be recalled less and less. Someday no one will write about them, but, for now, I do. They tell me I can’t go home again, but were I to go to my homeplace tomorrow and see Dad’s old black screen door in place, I’d be home again. Right off, I’d check to see if the rod needed adjusting and the screen needed some cotton. I know they wouldn’t though. Dad ran a tight ship.

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