“The screen door slams.” is the opening line to Bruce Springsteen’s “Thunder Road,” the opening track on his 1975 magnum opus, Born to Run. Whenever I hear it, I remember stopping in the record store on Pacific Avenue in Wildwood every afternoon for about 10 days in a row waiting for the shipment to arrive…just as I remember slicing open the cellophane and sliding out the album to listen when I finally got my copy. Although he had captured many uniquely summer sensations in his two previous albums—this opening line on that hot day in August cemented the sound and image in my psyche.
I grew up in the days when home air conditioning was still a luxury, so opening all the windows and doors to the summer breeze was a “must.” At the back of our house, the screen door was directly below my bedroom, where I heard it slam when my father left for work first thing in the morning. If I tried to sleep late, I’d hear the door slam closed again and again as my sister and her friends kept running in and out, the way kids do in the summer. The sound of that door was a combination of slap and slam, the door being just a wooden frame hung on a pair of painted hinges, covered in silver screening with a grate at the bottom section to stop the dog from running through or kids from kicking it through, with a long diagonal adjustable brace, and a tight spring that powered the slam. Occasionally it was locked in place by a small hook-and-eye near the top of the door, but my brother could make the hook jump out just by banging the frame the right way.
Old-time summers, the kind I naturally yearn for, were simpler like that. As a kid, all I needed for summer was my Schwinn and my baseball glove (stamped with a fake Mickey Mantle autograph) and a bathing suit and a sprinkler and a mom who knew how and when to make lemonade or serve slices of watermelon on the picnic table. The neighborhood had plenty of kids and our cries filled the street all day long. Sooner or later, the Mister Softee tune would be heard as the truck approached and we’d all scatter in search of money. One girl, Cheryl, ran screaming every day as if she’d never had ice cream before and never would again…she always had the same panicked scream yet she enjoyed a cone every day. I imagine that every neighborhood has a Cheryl.
When the extended hours of summer evenings finally turned dark, all we needed was a flashlight for a game of flashlight tag, usually played at our house because we had an extra-big backyard and a good front stoop that served as “base.” We’d hide in bushes and behind trash cans or under lounge chairs and hold our breath as soon as the beam from the flashlight appeared around the corner of the house. Before long, we didn’t need to hold our breath anymore because the cacophony of insects in the forest and lakes nearby grew to an impenetrable din. Occasionally on Friday or Saturday night, my parents would pile us into the station wagon with some pillows and blankets and take us to the Atco drive-in movies. I’m sure we drove my parents crazy through the first part of the movie, but I don’t think I ever stayed awake to see the whole movie through…although I never missed the intermission countdown with its dancing hot dogs and self-buttering popcorn! For me, that was as fancy as our simple life got.
Most summer days came to an end when my mother called us in or, if we were far from the house, my father hooked his fingers between his lips and blasted out his distinctive sharp whistle. We didn’t wait for a second call or a second whistle…we’d be homeward bound pretty quickly and we kids would intersect at the back door and pile into the house and we always let the screen door slam.