When I walk I try never to listen to anything more than the street noises around me such as the birds singing or the laughter of children. I want my full attention focused on the natural world. Actually there is a safety element in this since I want to hear every vehicle that is coming up on me from behind, but more importantly I don’t want to miss anything that might connect me to my world of the moment. Being without extraneous noise running through my brain also sharpens my vision and I notice details that make my walk more interesting. It was a silly thing, but the other day, I noticed a screen door on a house I was passing by. Now a screen door is not a storm door. A screen door is a large piece of metal screen attached to a usually flimsy door frame that covers the entrances to houses in the summer time. The job of a screen is to let air in and keep bugs out. When we were kids (circa 1950s, 1960s) the sound of screen doors slamming on the block was characteristic of summer. Kids were in and out all day long and every time they left the house to play the screen door would bang shut and Mother would call, “Try not to bang the screen door on your way out”, but always to no avail. This screen door I saw had the obligatory piece in the middle that you pushed on going out so you wouldn’t poke your hand through the screen or cause the screen to begin to bend out. The one I saw was rather ornate. It had some small spindles and was painted white.
Back in “those days” no one had air conditioning or if you did, it was a swamp cooler that cooled off one room or maybe two so that is where everyone gathered in the house on the hottest days. The screen door did let in hot air but more importantly it let in any errant breezes that happened by and a breeze was absolutely heaven on a hot day. To see the curtains around the window stir and begin to move in the breeze that was blowing through the house was better than a cooler or a fan because it was a natural occasion. Seeing the curtains move you actually felt cooler. And when the sun set you could feel the air current was cooler. The screen door usually had a latch at the top you could hook. In a more secure time you could leave the door open at night and let the cooler night air blow through. When you latched the screen door from the inside you were safe.
Life was more neighborly with banging screen doors. Open doors meant that everyone in the neighborhood could call out to one another or to their children. Today’s central air as well as computers and other bits of technology keep us tightly in doors. Locked away from each other our desire for security is more than the protection of a piece of screen attached to a wooden frame can evoke. Too bad!