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How you Know you’re family: the back door syndrome

I grew up in a house where both doors, front and back, were situated on the same side of the house. The front door was reached by means of a lovely concrete sidewalk and steps (where my sisters and I performed for our mother the plays I wrote). The screened door was like new, without holes.

No one used this door, save a salesman or two or religious zealots, which opened into the dining room, where we rarely were, so we could pretend to not be home if anyone knocked on it.

Everyone who came to visit us used the “back” door, maybe once white but when I knew it, dinged with banging buckets, wood hauled in to the bin, dog pawprints, scuffed toe boot prints, and splashed, dribbled detritus.

The screen door that banged out each arrival wore holes and patches and a shimmer of black finger oil around the pull. 

The walkway from the road to the porch door consisted of boards, some attached, some sunken and loose, rotten in places, slippery when wet, icy in winter, sporting treacherous holes where the knots had fallen through, perfect for tripping. 

An unraveling rug covered with a rubber crosshatched mat for scraping lay under the doorway.

This ingress unsuited for safe passage was the one “family” chose to use, i.e., almost everyone we knew.

Inside, on the porch, the visual appeal didn’t improve. The visitor stepped up onto another dirty, unraveling rug above a filthy, felt, olive green carpet. To the left of the door hung all the outside coats, soiled and stinky from close proximity to animals and their effluvia, and milking spillage. Along the side wall sat the woodbin full (or not, depending on time of day) with wood for the heater, our farmhouse’s only heat source.

The visitor could turn left for the bathroom door, or right, for the kitchen, because forward sat the washer, so full of dirty clothes the door was popped open. 

What a lovely greeting! And yet, this homey delight is what everyone chose when they came to visit us, an Indiana Jones welcoming center—if you made it inside the house safely, you were one of us.

Last year, I went to visit a dear friend at his childhood home. I used the “front” door. The screen door was hard opening and slammed into me. The door’s knob wouldn’t turn without forcing (and swearing). Here’s the truth: The more friends and members a family has, the more creaky and immobile the front door becomes, squeaky and unwieldy. 

When I left, after hugs and goodbyes, the last thing they said to me was, “Next time, use the back door, through the garage. That’s for family.”


2 thoughts on “How you Know you’re family: the back door syndrome”

  1. Love this. It creates a world of memories applicable I would guess, to the majority of families. Yet, instead of mundane, it exalted that ritual of the ‘family entrance’. Brilliantly captured and genuinely enjoyed.

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