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  Texas : Features : Columns : "It's All Trew"

Screen door was faithful fixture

by Delbert Trew
Delbert Trew
The most used, abused, repaired and mistreated tool on early farms was the back screen door. Ours was painted "peeling barn red," showing each corner patched with tin, the frame held square by an angle brace of twisted baling wire and protected from the greyhounds by nailing chicken-wire on the outside bottom. It stood as a scarred and weary warrior at our back porch entrance, bidding all who came to enter.

If the hinges loosened, Dad removed the screws, whittled slender wooden pegs, drove them into the screw holes, and replaced the screws. If the corners gave way, he nailed tin triangles to the joints with shingle nails. If the door sagged, he inserted a nail between the bailing wire brace, twisting tighter until the sag corrected upward, allowing the door to close properly.

Ill-fitting doors, allowing cracks for flies to enter, were fitted with little strips of inner-tube nailed on with shingle nails. The big crack at the bottom required attaching a worn-out overall's leg to act as a floor-sweep and cricket barrier. A hole accidentally punched into the surface required a screen-wire patch sewn on with needle and thread or stuffing the break with cotton. Numerous accessories could be added to a screen door to help repel insects. One theory attached strings, cotton balls and paper strips to the screen with hairpins, hoping the movement in the breeze would scare away flies. Fly strips and cloth soaked in fly spray offered temporary protection, but, eventually, this and other theories proved useless.

Our most successful method of reducing flies involved propping the door open, conducting a fly-drive through the house, chasing them out the door before closing it. After a little time, when the ousted flies landed back on the door screen trying to re-enter, someone could sneak up on the outside of the door and mist it with a hand-pumped fly-spray gun. If applied twice a day, this practice worked well.

A good strong hook, located high up on the screen door, guarded against intruders and contained exploring toddlers. The coiled spring, holding the door shut, provided an excellent place to hang a wet dish towel or diaper.

A set of rules existed at the Trew house governing screen-door use. Open the door only wide enough to slip through, then close it quickly to keep the flies out. Holding the door open too wide or too long, running through too fast, or slamming it brought on a lecture or a swat with a fly-swatter. Repeated offenses were corrected with a razor strop when Dad came home from work. These examples demonstrate how a simple device called a screen door faithfully served its owners by acting as a barrier for protection, improved the hygiene of the home and doubled as an aid in teaching discipline to children.

Fonder memories recall when the gentle slam of the screen door announced the arrival of friends, the return of a child needing a cookie or the presence of a tired husband coming home from a hard day's work. Here's a toast to this almost forgotten, most significant friend of the past.

Delbert Trew
"It's All Trew" February 26 , 2004 column
 
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