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Michael Perry: Grace in the ear of the beholder

Michael Perry: Grace in the ear of the beholder


The wooden screen door bangs shut behind us now that I replaced the spring and that right there is one of your Top Five civilized sounds. Not too civilized, or you’d have one of those slow-moving hydraulic jobs, but where’s the fun in that? If you prefer a screen door that makes a squeezy sound, then gently tamps itself into the doorframe, so be it. I prefer something more definitive.

There is some irony in this as just this morning I griped that we live in a time desperately short on nuance and grace, which you could say a hydraulic screen door represents. Still, I prefer the slappy slam. It echoes nicely off the granary and off my memory. Because that’s it, isn’t it? A slamming screen door is not so much a sound as an association. In fact, my affection for the screen door slam is such that it overrides my latent hyperacusis, a fancy name for a condition that renders sharp noises painful (and the listener grumpy). The screen door gets a pass because it triggers so many palliative associations.

I used to write for a magazine called No Depression, which took its name partly from a song called “No Depression” recorded by the Carter family in 1936 and partly from an album called “No Depression” released in 1990 by a band called Uncle Tupelo which contained a cover version of the song “No Depression,” as well as an original tune called “Screen Door,” which is where the music magazine No Depression got the idea to publish the closing essay of each issue under the title of “Screen Door.”

You follow?

Doesn’t matter. Point is screen doors speak to us of other times and other porches and open air and roomy afternoons and music from a distance and the freedom of coming and going, and a form of sonic time travel in which every wood-slat slam is tied somehow to a memory just beyond our grasp. Which is why after half a summer of our screen door hovering helplessly between open and closed and letting the bugs in, I finally took the cordless screwdriver in hand this afternoon and fixed it. “Fixed it,” in scare quotes, because what I did is sink a cheap drywall screw into the door frame and hook the new spring over the Phillips head.

But man, it snaps smartly shut. I didn’t tell my wife. I figured I’d let her discover it like the gift it is. Let her wonder about the identity of the anonymous handyman until she sees that drywall screw, at which point it will become self-evident. She is familiar with my oeuvre.

She came home this afternoon and has been in and out of the door a couple of times. So far I have received neither notice nor acclaim. I am going to try real hard not to ask. She has been known to respond to my fishing by fixing me with a look normally reserved for needy kindergartners and asking if I would like a gold star. Just now it occurs to me that perhaps she was hoping for a hydraulic screen door that closes with a velvety tunk. This is the sort of critical mismatch premarital counseling often fails to address. I shall propose it as an agenda item for the next family meeting. Nuance and grace are in the ear of the beholder and sometimes you just have to create your own.

An original “Roughneck Grace” column exclusive to the Wisconsin State Journal. Audio versions may air on “Tent Show Radio” ( Read more from Michael Perry at

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