door was faithful fixture
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
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
© Delbert Trew
All Trew" February
26 , 2004 column