The Dutch Door. Common in the Netherlands in the 17th century, Dutch settlers brought their split door to the United States, where it first appeared in rural houses in New York and New Jersey. Originally devised as an exterior door to keep children in and animals out, while allowing air and light to come and go. My dad’s homemade interior Dutch Door let air and light come and go but kept both children and pets out of the kitchen until we wiped our feet or cleaned our paws.
Whenever we flew out the side door or down to the basement and forgot to close both the top and bottom, Mom’s “Shut the door!” always rang out to remind us. Nowadays, she liked the top open for the sunshine and fresh air, but Tweedle Dumb never obliged. When I asked why, she claimed, “There’s poison in the basement. Blackie ate it once, convulsed and threw up.” I said, “Well, if that’s true, cats are smart. I’m sure he won’t do that again. Mom likes the door open while she eats. You can keep Blackie upstairs during that time.” She objected, and The Battle of the Dutch Door began. When I stepped out, Tweedle Dumb stepped in and slammed the door shut while Mom, helpless in her wheelchair, watched. I’d return and open it. Back and forth this nonsense continued until I threatened to remove the door, and added, “If you were as attentive to my mother as you are to your cat, how happy we’d be.” Tweedle Dumb responded with her rarest of gifts—silence.
After we gained our freedom, the Dutch Door battles ended, or so I thought. With no pets, pests or poison—imagined or otherwise—in the house, the top remained open, always. Occasionally, I’d also leave the bottom ajar, thus reigniting the old tug-of-war with Mom. Though I may have forgotten her refrain from my childhood, she did not. Mom spotted the open door as soon as we entered the kitchen. As I wheeled her around the table, without saying a word, she reached out and in one smooth move, closed it. And a new, yet a most welcome, battle began. I got such a kick out of it; I left the bottom open on purpose every day.
At the time I didn’t realize how vital a role this Dutch Door would play in our journey. My simple action, leaving the bottom open, created an entertaining and yet telling reaction on Mom’s part, closing it. This signaled all was well. But if she ever stopped slamming that door shut, I’d fear the end was near.