It takes so little to trigger a memory: a photo, a flavor, a phrase in a melody.
First Glimpse: The Screen Door
The house I grew up in was a two story rectangle, deeper than it was wide. It started life as a one story, built by my grandfather and, most likely, my great-grandfather, in the early teens of the twentieth century. A second story was added sometime in the 1930s. It was plain and functional, inside and out. My mother was born in that house, in the downstairs front bedroom.
There was a front porch, big enough to hold a swing, that faced Flax Street. Three adults or five to six kids would fill the swing. The "back" porch was actually a side entrance at the rear of the house. The kitchen exited to that back porch, which was enclosed. The back porch lead to the "backyard," really the side yard.
The back porch was a stubby, little porch, about the size of a pantry, with a wood door between it and the kitchen and another one between it and the backyard. It was small. Maybe three kids or one adult could be in it at the same time. Both the kitchen door and the outside door had a single pane letting in light and providing the person on either side of the door a look at who or what was coming in or out.
In that pre air-conditioned world in which I grew up, screen doors were a hallmark of summer. When temperatures rose, a screen door allowed for some air movement throughout the day and evening. The screen door going up between the kitchen and the back porch meant hot days had arrived. Once the screen door was in place, the wood kitchen door was shut only at night when everyone went to bed, as was the outside door.
The slap of the screen door was the rhythm of summer. The front door of the house, the one facing the street, got plenty of use, but as a kid, it is the back screen door I remember best.
Slap to the back yard.
Slap to get a bike leaned up against the house or thrown down on the grass.
Slap to come in and get a drink at Grandma's sink, slap to go back out.
Slap to hang up the laundry.
Slap to bring in the laundry.
Slap to feed the dogs.
Slap again to feed the cat.
Slap for my brothers and cousins and me to pour out of the house like so many ants and swirl up the street to Aunt Jane's house.
Somewhere in the midst of all that slapping would be an adult yelling "stay in or stay out!"
Surely there were other screen doors in my life—at my other grandparents' farm, at a friend's house, at the small grocery three blocks away—but it is the Flax Street screen door that I hear in my mind's ear.
Second Glimpse: The Indoor Summer
One summer, maybe the summer I was ten, I developed what my mom and our family doctor called "sun poisoning." I had itchy rashes sprinkled on my arms and legs and would sometimes develop a solid patch of spectacular color, deep brick red or purple, along with the rash.
The doctor said I was allergic to the sun. The remedy was two-fold: a topical ointment for the rash and an order to stay inside during the height of the afternoon.
It was a summer made to order for me.
The indoor summer was one of books and not being told "go play outside!" by an overworked mother. It was the summer of playing jacks in the front hallway of the Flax Street house, the linoleum cool and smooth. I mastered the basic game and went on to learn variations, including some that required elaborate hand movements and tosses.
My girlfriends would join me on the floor, playing endless rounds of jacks. My best friend Cindy and I became jacks masters. When jacks would pale or someone was called home, I'd go right back to my books.
There are no pictures of me during that indoor summer. In those days of film cameras, my parents saved their roll of film for Bigger Events: a day at Lake Erie, a birthday, a visit from relatives, a vacation. There was no reason to take photos of a stringy haired, lanky blotchy child stretched out on the floor, her cheek pressed into the linoleum as she read and reread Misty of Chincoteague.
The sun allergy disappeared in the fall and did not come back for years. It made a brief appearance when I was in my early 20s, after I had spent a week outside painting the flat roof of the apartment building in which I lived. This time, though, no one said "spend your summer inside." No one offered me a set of jacks or knocked on the door to join me in play.
It is summer here as I write this post. It has been a amazingly mild summer, with many bright days that cool off deliciously once the sun goes down. This summer stirs those memories, those memories of that other time, that other self.
*This Other Time, This Other Self is an intermittent series of posts, triggered by a photo, a sound, a book, in which I dip into my past. The first one is found here, the second one is here.