Updated: Dec 31, 2019
Bang! The screen door slams shut, quivers, finally nestles back into the doorframe. The barefoot girl is already halfway down the driveway. Slap, slap – her toughened feet spring off the steaming asphalt.
I watch my seven-year-old self in her faded pink terrycloth shorts and matching halter-top as she now tunnels through the hedge that separates the overgrown suburban lawn from the plowed field on the other side. I know where she’s heading – to the cherry tree at the edge of the field, red globes bursting with summer’s sweetness, sticky juice soon to dribble down her chin as she perches in the lower limbs.
I'm tempted to join her, but instead I linger at the screen door. I inhale the rusty screen, one corner frayed and detached from the weathered wooden frame. A sieve-like filter, it has captured remnants of countless summer days: the dried wings of June bugs, the greasy scent of grilled hamburgers, cookie crumbs from unwashed hands. I can almost hear my older brother’s teasing voice as he dashes out, my younger sisters calling for him to wait up, the screen door reverberating as we come and go.
What else does the tattered screen exude? The smell of beer and gin on my father’s breath? The heat that passed between my parents? Their hopes for bigger houses with doors that will open pathways for the family?
Their wish materialized in the coming years, homes complete with immaculate screens in aluminum sliding doors that slid softly rather than banging shut. Yet none of those metal grids entice me now. Too slick, too clean, too easily exchanged for the next new doors.
I have a bookshelf full of picture albums from my childhood. I rarely look at them anymore, it’s as if the photos themselves are tucked into the crevices of my brain, able to come alive when evoked. Why this particular photo today of me at age seven, why this moment in our family scrapbook?
I sit on my deck in northern California, looking out over pine-covered steep hills. Very different from our flat Midwestern yard back in the 1950’s. But today the air is unusually thick and sultry like the summers in Illinois. The heat coaxes a faint odor of creosote from my asphalt driveway. Then whap! A June bug hits my own screen. It’s as if I’m watching a Polaroid photo coalesce from a blur into an image. Suddenly there I am in my terrycloth outfit, summoned by the fat bug, the imagined taste of cherries, the remembered texture of a rusty screen. And by my yearning to duck through the hedge between now and then, to re-enter a golden period in our family’s life.
More photos begin to spill from my mental scrapbook. Time has become as porous as the screen door, with feelings and memories floating through, some sticking, drawing me closer. I see my dad as he squats in front of our first TV set and twirls the knobs as Lawrence Welk accordion music fills the room. My Grandpa Elmer grabs my hands and we polka gallop around the room. Jim does a handstand as Sue and Deb somersault across the rug. I hear my mom and grandmother laughing, knives slicing through celery stalks as they make potato salad in the kitchen. I miss my seven-year-old and my rambunctious family.
Not quite ready to return to the pungent smell of California live oaks and the chortling of ravens, I catch the scent of dandelions near that concrete doorstep. Some still sport sturdy yellow blossoms, others are transformed into white puffballs, awaiting a wisp of air that will scatter their winged seeds in all directions. One or two will be snagged by the frayed wire, becoming part of the screen door album.
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