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The Knocker Lady of Whittier

WHEN WE BOUGHT this 90-year-old house in Whittier, we thought the heavy, wide, wooden door needed a knocker.

We went to a store that sells metal pulls and knobs and levers and latches. While I was musing over whether we should choose a brushed finish or a shiny one, my husband interrupted me, beaming. “I found it!” he announced, and hefted up an enormous brass lion head chewing on a big ring.

It would have been at home on the gates of Buckingham Palace.

“You’re a Republican, aren’t you?” I asked him.

Eventually, I yielded and agreed that he could hang his king of the beasts only if he also hung up some other, lesser door knockers to prove that we had a sense of humor about being so grandiose. We bought the lion, a weathered verdigris sun, and brass leg of Mercury that you knock by manipulating its winged thigh. “Just how many doors do you folks have?” asked the sales clerk.

In these small, daily decisions, lifelong traditions are born. Slowly but surely, we became collectors of oddball things that go bump in the night (or when FedEx arrives). We searched shops for ancient, rusting hardware, scoured architectural salvage houses for scavenged hinged things, and kept screwing stuff into the door, which now takes considerable muscle to open and clanks like a bulletproof bank vault. Travelers started to bring us home odd knockers: an upside-down green salamander, a brown walleye hanging by its tail. One Christmas, we were gifted an eagle, a parrot and a woodpecker.

There are now 15 knockers on the front door, and a few more sitting here in the kitchen waiting to be mounted. There’s a cat and a frog with green glass eyes. A Victorian gloved hand, a pelican and a little black bat (an homage to my husband’s first success at evicting a winged visitor from the living room). After the first dozen were up, our handyman noticed a big crack in the door. “Maybe we ought to stop putting these things on here,” he suggested mildly.

“Patch the door and hang up this dragonfly,” we told him.

We ran out of space and started mounting knockers onto the door frame. Our kids, nieces, nephews and visitors all have their favorites. Some people, usually children under 12 or men over 40, simply bang on them all until one of us makes it to the door and tells them to knock it off. A few musical folks have puzzled out how to play “The Anvil Chorus,” relatively in tune.

I am now known in the neighborhood as “the knocker lady,” and not for any reason for which a girl might boast. One delivery driver turned scarlet after complimenting me on my “nice knockers.” He tried to save the day by adding, “and none of them are the same size or shape,” but ended up backing down the front steps and muttering to himself all the way to his truck.

Feng Shui author and Southwest Minneapolitan Carole Hyder tells me that the front door of a home is quite auspicious. It provides people with a first impression of who lives inside. It is the entry point for change. It is the only way good fortune and good luck know how to get in. Opportunity, literally, knocks at the front door. I wonder if it uses the salamander or the bat?

This was first published in the Southwest Journal June 28, 2007.

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