ONE OF the rites of spring composer Igor Stravinsky forgot to mention was the ritual Cleaning of the Screens. Each year about this time my father roused his small army of children from their long winter slumber and set them to work removing the storm windows and cleaning and mounting the houses screens.
We regarded this job as dirty, awful, disgusting and other things that are not fit to print in a family newspaper. Cleaning screens ranked second only to weeding the garden as a spring chore to be avoided, if at all possible. (Unfortunately, this, like missing church on Sunday, was totally out of the question.)
We were mighty disappointed Stravinsky over-looked these rites in his Sacres du Printemps .
I'm sure we were the only family on the block that stored its screens over the winter and cleaned them every spring before mounting them again. This was just one more reason why we never did get on well with the neighbors. Nobody likes to look bad. Dad constantly made the neighbors look awful.
Dad felt the sap rising even as the first robin be-bopped across the front yard. With a gleam in his eye and car privileges in hip pocket, he summoned us to the attic for the traditional Blessing of the Screens. This consisted of moving the snow blower and various sundry winter tools to a forsaken corner and lugging the screens to the driveway, where they could be properly sanctified.
With all the organization of a Prussian general, dad assigned stations to each kid (he was very resourceful; he thought of new jobs for subsequent additions to the family). The first fo these was known, specifically, as the "screen-setter-upper."
The "screen-setter-upper" (dad's term) set the pace for the entire operation.He brought the screens from the long stack leaning against the garage door and held them for the initial bathing performed by the "hose-man." From here the screen passed to the "scrub-man," (dad's term) who had the truly despicable task of scrubbing them down on a pair of saw horses with brush and soapy water. Then to the "rinse-man" (disguised as "hose-man"); then to "inspector-man" (dad himself); and finally to "put-'er-in-man," (dad's term) who ran the thing upstaris, installed it and ran back in time to catch the next screen.
While our eyes stared obsently at the slowly-ever so slowly-diminishing stack of screens, our minds clung to visions of baseball and hop-scotch. Despite our reverie and occasional temper tantrums, however, dad's assembly line functioned as the fine-tooled machine it was.
I never saw my father actually repair a screen. But he probably did. He delighted in fixing everything there was to fix in a house and making his children help. Anyone interested in doing likewise can find all the necessary screen mending materials at a properly equipped hardware store.
There are two types of screens to fix: wooden and aluminum. There are two types of screen material to use: aluminum and Fiberglas. Screens have traditionally tended to be aluminum and these are usually the higher priced of the lot, says William B. Yahn, general manager of Keystone Seneca Wire Cloth of Brookhaven, Miss., which makes both types and distributes nationally.
Manufacturers have developed black or charcoal-colored screens, in aluminum and Fiberglas, they say are easier to see through. Most agree that Fibreglas is handier to work with, though it holds up less well, they say, against "certain kinds of damage"-such as kids poking their heads through them.
Small holes, caused by arrows, crab apples, gun barrels and other playthings, can be mended with patch kits that sell at some hardware stores. Hechinger sells such a kit for $1. The aluminum patch has ends bent at right angles. You place the patch over the hole and bend the wires back. (You can do the same yourself cutting a piece from scrap and bending the edges over a piece of wood.)
Damaged Fibreglas mesh can be fixed with nailpolish applied in several layers. If the hole is too large for that, use a piece of scrap and household cement. Make sure the mesh is running in the same direction when you glue it down. Yahn says, however, that Fiberglas screening "is like a shirt: When the thing starts to go, you might as well just replace it."
Approaching a screen to replace the wire is like trying to remove something from an automobile dashboard. There doesn't appear to be anyplace to start poking. But screens are not as formidable as they look.
Screens on wooden doors and windows are usually set into the wood. The edges are stapled down and covered with molding. Remove the molding and pull out the staples with a pair of pliers.
Screens on aluminum frames are wedged into a groove with what the industry calls a spline. Spline normally is a snake-like piece of neoprene but also comes in squared-off aluminum strips. Both can be pried out of their grooves with a small screwdriver.
To replace the screen mesh, you will need new mesh, a pair of C-clamps, some spring clamps, a sharp knife, scissors or tinsnips and a splining tool. Mesh is sold by the foot, yard or roll, in different widths, at prices starting around 40 cents per foot for aluminum, 30 cents for Fiberglas. Splining can cost less than a dollar for a 24 foot roll (it's a good idea to take a piece from the old screen to be sure you buy the same dimension). The splining tool, with wheels at either end, looks like a map mileage reader and costs $2- $5. Moulding, for wooden screens, is around 80 cents for an eight-foot length.
Once the old mesh is out, place the frame, with a small piece of wood under each end, on a table. Clamp it down in the middle on either side with two C-clamps so the frame bows about 1/2-inch. When the frame is later released, it will spring back and pull the mesh tight.
Center the screening over the frame and secure it at one end with the spring clamps. Cut into the corners up to the channel so the corners will bend. On the clamped end, use the convex wheel of the splining tool to push the screen into the grove. Then put in the spline and press it down with the concave wheel. Continue around the screen, pulling the mesh tight as you go, until the spline is firmly in place everywhere. Then go back over it with the splining tool, or a blunt screwdriver. Excess screening is trimmed away with a knife.
The set-up for wooden screens is the same, but make sure you do not bend the frame until it cracks. Use the spring clamps on one side to begin, stapling as you go with a stapling gun and 1/4-inch staples. Pull the wrinkles out and continue all the way around. Trim the excess and cover the edge with the moulding.
Some stores sell lengths of aluminum and joiners for those who want to make their own screens. But the best method by far of mending screens is to rent an apartment and let the landlord do it. Father would be proud.