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Dan Conradt: Sad surrender: Take down the screens

Just when I was ready to admit that warm weather was done for the year we'd get another nice day, and I'd give myself a reprieve.

Oct. 23, they were still up. Oct. 29. Nov. 3.

A couple of years ago they didn't come down until a week after Thanksgiving, and I was starting to think we might surpass that. And in my most optimistic moments, I wondered whether El Nino might let me skip the chore altogether this year.

Then the winds came, tearing the few remaining leaves from the trees and whistling under the garage door.

The lawn sparkled under a coating of frost.


The furnace had just run for the third time in 40 minutes … not that I was counting … and even in a sweatshirt with a musclebound gopher under a big maroon "M", I was cold.

I was tempted to turn the furnace up to 65, but didn't want to add to global warming.

Reluctantly, I made a painful decision: it was time to take down the window screens.

It's become a cold weather tradition in our house, but I'm not even sure any more why we started doing it. I vaguely remember washing the inside windows one cold mid-autumn day … more out of boredom than necessity. It meant taking down the screens, and the milky-white light pouring in through the bare windows changed the entire look of the house … it made everything look warmer and brighter … and I liked it so much I left the screens down over the winter.

Thus, a tradition was born.

But tradition or not, I still try to push "Screen Removal Day" as late into the season as possible; in a place where summer is already too short, it's an admission that warm weather is over until spring.

It's like crying "uncle" to Mother Nature.

The wind blew a garbage can lid down the street, and the furnace kicked on for the fourth time.



I lifted the pins that held the screen in the frame and removed the first screen from a living room window; the light filtering into the room already seemed different.

I pulled a cloth out of the linen closet … I'm not sure how we acquired a washcloth with "Holiday Inn" embroidered on it … ran the cloth under the faucet of the wash basin in the laundry room and wiped a summer's worth of cobwebs off the screen before leaning it against the wall in its traditional off-season spot in a corner of the basement.

One down, sixteen to go.

It was mindless work, and as I did laps up and down the basement stairs my mind wandered: I don't care what that new study says, I'm eating bacon.... I didn't go to a Twins game this year.... Why is it impossible to whistle when your mouth is full of crackers?

The sun peeked through a break in the clouds as I worked, and I convinced myself that maybe not all of the screens would have to come off right now; if the forecasters are right about El Nino, I might be able to crank a window open on Christmas Eve or Groundhog's Day.

And since I'll never underestimate the determination of hornets, bats and other vermin, the windows don't get opened without a screen in place.

I'd grown tired of my own deep thoughts and needed something to fill the quiet of the house.


Through the smoke-colored window I could see a disk in the CD player, and hit the "play" button.

It had been a while since the player had been used … weeks? months? longer? … but whatever had been left in the player would be fine, as long as it gave me some hope that we might not be done with warm weather after all.

Some Beach Boys would be nice …

The disk whirred, then Burl Ives started singing "Frosty The Snowman".

Uncle, darn it.

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