There’s something unusual about the newer homes that have sprung up in my neighborhood over the past few years. My neighbor Peony noticed it during one of our walks. It’s not just that the new houses are big. Some of them are monsters. They’re houses on steroids, houses that could easily gobble up my house and still have room for a garage or two.
We’d been feeling virtuous because here it was, the middle of February, and we were out trudging through the slush in pursuit of better health while the rest of our community huddled unhealthily inside their homes. When the snow was deep, we’d walk in the street. We’d walk, and talk, and occasionally Peony would pull me aside as a car I didn’t hear crept up on us from behind.
“So, do you notice anything about these new homes?” Peony asked, after casually saving my life for the second time.
Hm. Huge sweeping driveways, lofty white columns, decorative urns big enough to hold the entire cast of Downton Abbey… um, people with way more money than me live in them?
“They don’t have any screen doors.”
I looked to my left, where a gargantuan estate, Jabba the House, squatted toad-like amongst snow-covered shrubberies. Cobblestones shaped like jagged teeth led to the front entryway, the door a massive tongue carved from burnished oak and adorned with long black hinges that really belonged on a kitschy medieval restaurant. I looked to the right. Another behemoth, this one more modern in style, its huge door a blindingly white sentinel with eyes of leaded glass.
Great balls of pretentious fire, Peony was right! None of the newer homes had screen doors!
I grew up in a modest neighborhood in Chicago, where every house had a screen door, and where every child heard that familiar admonishment, “Stop slamming the door!” But there was something satisfying about running out of the house on those warm summer days, when school was out and long sunny hours of unsupervised play awaited. The slamming of the screen door was the exclamation point after a gleeful shout. It’s summer, we’re freeeee! And bang! goes the door.
(“Hey, what did I tell you about the damn door?!”)
Nowadays, you hear a sharp noise like that and your first instinct might be to duck. The world doesn’t seem the same as it did when I was a kid. My neighbors and I are fortunate to live in a relatively safe area but the crime list on the local police blotter does seem to grow longer each year, with more and more burglaries and even the occasional brazen daylight robbery.
So why wouldn’t the owners of a brand new house want a screen door? It’s not as though they couldn’t afford them. Most of these mega-houses have multiple fireplaces, two-car garages, and judging by the amount of inflatable Santas and light-up reindeer in evidence just a few months ago, a whole wing for storing holiday decorations. But no screen door. Are screen doors becoming passé, old fashioned, a quaint reminder of a bygone era? Or perhaps those beautiful front doors are just so lovely that it would be a criminal shame to hide them. Is it all due to curb appeal? Or might there be something more?
Screen doors are the buffer between you and the stranger with his finger on the doorbell. They allow you to speak to someone from behind a thin shield of mesh and metal. Screen doors are your home’s comment moderators, if you will, allowing potential conversation without immediate entry. The screen is a membrane through which fresh air and all it may blow your way is welcome to come by for a spell.
Homes with front doors open and screen doors in say, We feel safe, living amongst these neighbors. We can hear the children playing and know that all is well. We can see that new couple walk by- looks like she will have her baby soon. We can smell the magnolia-scented breeze and realize that it is almost spring.
In my childhood memories, all the houses had screen doors. And they were usually unlatched.
Today, the big fortress across the street looks formidable, impenetrable. I’m peering at it through my front window. I don’t have the front door open right now, are you crazy? Didn’t you read in the paper- a woman was stabbed when she wouldn’t give up the keys to her car. Happened right out in front of her house in broad daylight, just a few miles from here.
Maybe I’d better go check the back of the house.
Gotta make sure I locked the screen door.
Are the kids in?