The Doors We Open and Close

1800s log home with door covers in case of attack.

1800s log home with door covers in case of attack.

Modern Santa Fe-style door with glass art panels.

Modern Santa Fe-style door with glass art panels.

"Santa Fe Door #1"--oil painting by E.W. Strother. (All photographs by Marylin Warner)

“Santa Fe Door #1”–oil painting by E.W. Strother. (All photographs by Marylin Warner)



Entrance door with gate and pergola.

Entrance door with gate and pergola.







When I visited my parents in Kansas during my dad’s last years with Alzheimer’s, I always took my mother out for a ride. Sometimes we shopped for special foods or things they needed. Other times we just started driving to see where the road took us.

We both loved houses. Not big fancy houses, but regular family houses, or old rambling houses. And we especially liked doors. As years went by and Mom started showing serious signs of dementia, I created the “Guess what’s behind the door” game. Here’s how it worked.

I’d drive along a street or around a neighborhood, and Mom was supposed to be looking for a house door that caught her attention. Sometimes I had to remind her what she was looking for; other times she’d get excited and say, “There! That one!”

I’d slow down and we’d both take a good look at the door she’d chosen. Then I’d give her a prompt and say: “When you open that door and go inside, what is the first thing you see?” (or hear? ~ or smell? ~ or feel? -~ or even taste?) Then as we drove on, we’d create a story based on how she answered the question. And always–always!–after we played this game, she was hungry and wanted an ice cream cone. (Thinking is hard work, you know.)

Through the years I’ve learned that Alzheimer’s and dementia closes many mental doors, but sometimes I can put my foot in the way before a door closes completely, and I can connect a memory or an idea with my mother. As Flora Whittemore (1890-1993) wrote: “The doors we open and close each day decide the lives we live.” There is probably no truer statement for those who suffer with Alzheimer’s or dementia…and also for the rest of us, too.

Try the door game. Choose one of the doors on this post and imagine opening it. Create a first response for each of the senses. Your answers will lead you to a story genre–horror or romance or mystery or sci-fi or adventure, etc.–and even if you don’t want to write anything, your creative juices will be flowing! Or maybe you’ll be like my mother and just crave an ice cream cone. And that’s okay, too.

In addition to Flora Whittemore’s wise words, here are some of my other favorites about DOORS:

“Sometimes you don’t know when you’re taking the first step through a door until you’re already inside.” ~ Ann Voskamp, author of ONE THOUSAND GIFTS

“Every now and then one paints a picture that seems to have opened a door and serves as a stepping stone to other things.” ~ Artist Pablo Picasso

And from Dejan Stojanovic, poet and journalist from Kosovo: “He tries to find the exit from himself, but there is no door.”

Doors on a supposedly condemned building.

Doors on a supposedly condemned building.


Screened-in porch entrance door.

Screened-in porch entrance door.


Rockledge Ranch farm house.

Rockledge Ranch farm house, Colorado Springs.












Filed under Abilene Kansas, Colorado Springs, Dementia/Alzheimer's, memories for great-grandchildren, writing exercises

77 responses to “The Doors We Open and Close

  1. What a great prompt!

    Would it be a huge deal for you to create a category in your sidebar, so a person could easily find all of your prompts? You have such good ideas….

    • Thank you, Tracy. Throughout the blog I’ve posted maybe a dozen of my prompts, but I could actually make a sidebar for the prompts that I don’t use in my workshops (those I have to keep separate).
      I’m finding that the prompts I used to try and keep my mother actively involved (her dementia is to the point that she no longer responds now) can also be adjusted for anyone who just wants writing prompts. Thanks for the suggestion, Tracy. I’ll put it on my To-Do list!

      • I didn’t mean to make you add anything to your To-Do list–I was being selfish, thinking it would be good for us readers….

      • It’s not selfish, Tracy, not at all. I just returned from a writing “retreat” at the Franciscan Center–where I slept in the former convent–and there were no televisions, phones (except for emergencies, etc.), and no traffic or ringing doorbells. Pure joy! Plus I did get some prompts that I’ll be sharing!

  2. juliabarrett

    Beautiful and true. I’m a fan of odd doors. My grandmother lived in a Christmas tree green house with a flaming red door. Loved it.
    There’s a song, oh, darn it. I can never think of the name of it. Ah, Annie Lennox sings it – Why – This is the path I’ll never tread. These are the dreams I’ll dream instead.
    We can’t have it all. We make choices.

  3. As I was taking door pictures, I drove past a duplex where both sides had been evicted. One door had been kicked in, and the other had the door knob and lock above it cut out, and the contents of both units were strewn all over the yard. Child-size clothing was blowing across the lawn.
    If my mother could still play the Guess what’s Behind The Door game, it would have broken her heart.
    I didn’t take a picture.

  4. Doors are fascinating. I like your game idea of imagining what’s behind the door.
    Can’t stop thinking about ice cream now!

    • That’s the way my mom felt, too! She would play the game, Rod–fill in interesting details, especially smells and tastes–then smile and ask if it wasn’t time to go get an ice cream cone now.
      Hey, whatever encouraged her to think and interact was worth trying!

  5. You’ve had a rough old time over the years with your father’s illness and now your Mom’s Marylin. It amazes me how you always persevere and try to coax the memories back out. You are one very special lady.
    xxx Stupendous Hugs xxx

    • Oh, thank you, David. To understand it fully, you should have known my parents BEFORE his Alzheimer’s and her dementia. They were kind, funny, smart, caring and helpful people. They would have persevered if the tables had been turned. HUGS to you, too!

  6. I love your door pictures…all of them…and the quotes too. My favorite is about trying to find a door out of ourself…I often think lately I need to find that door. Nope, not available! I hope you have a good weekend ahead…finally some warmth back again…hope the Ft. Scott tornado did not leave any of your loved ones in a bad way. It was truly a scary night again…..

    • Thanks, Claudia. The tornado missed them, and now their weather–and ours in Colorado–are wonderful examples of spring!!! I go to visit Mom again next week. She’s been alternating days of napping and non-responsiveness with constant chattering about her life on the farm or working with Dad in their business. I’m hoping when I see her it’s warm enough to bundle her up in the wheelchair and take her for a walk.

  7. Oh I love this post Marylin! I love doors too and windows, but I adore the way you turned this into a prompt and I also love the quotes, particularly the Laura Wittmore one and wonderful photos!

    • Andrea, I stumbled onto Flora Whittemore–born in 1890 and lived to be 103–so she was a wealth of common sense and wisdom. She was a smart, kind, practical woman who struggled against the elements and and other problems to survive and take care of those she loved, and she still remembered to enjoy life and laugh. In some ways, she reminded me of my mom before the dementia.

  8. That is, Flora Whittemore!

  9. Wow, the quote from Flora Whittemore is on spot, Marylin. I’ve always loved photos of windows and doors. For me, windows prompt me to write the “what if” and doors make me wonder what’s going on beyond that door. I love all of your photos and will definitely use one or two as a prompt…thanks!

    • I used this several times with my high school Writing To Publish class, and with teens it always revealed the short story genre they wanted to pursue. For instance, if they opened the door and smelled decay or a coppery scent, you knew they were headed for mystery or horror…or comedy with a red herring hint. It’s really a fun prompt to follow up on and share with others, Jill. I think you’d find it very interesting.
      P.S. Your new picture is wonderful!

      • Thank you, Marylin. I hate having my picture taken.
        I’ll certainly give it a try, Marylin. I have a feeling, I won’t be smelling any decay. I’m a chicken when it comes to horror stories. More than likely, I would find a couple young and in love. 🙂

  10. I love doors as well, and this should be compulsory reading for Alzheimer’s carers

    • Thank you! I agree, actually. For several years, Mom responded very well to the prompts I created to keep her involved. Now the dementia has progressed too far, but I still think this prompt could help others.

  11. I found with my grandmother as well as my mother-in-law that as the disease progressed the recent doors closed but older doors temporarily opened as they went back to their childhood memories.

    • You’re so right, Elizabeth. Lately during my mother’s bursts of non-stop talking, it’s all about her chores on the farm, or her friends walking to the country school. The memories of the distant past become clearer as the memories of the present and the immediate past disappear.
      But she’s content with her distant memories, so I’m grateful for these doors that open to the days when she was a chile.

  12. The Strother oil painting door reaches out to me. I also enjoy photographing doors, usually old or perhaps just ornate, maybe in startling colours. I can imagine how they stimulate the imagination. I suspect your mom had a lot of fun playing this game, Marylin. And now I think it is time for an ice cream 🙂

    • You would enjoy Elsie’s Santa Fe Doors series of oil paintings, Andrew. I own #1 and #3. I loved her paintings and had just sold two short stories when #1 came up for sale, so I hurried to buy it…and reserve the second one until I could afford it.
      She continued oil painting into her late 70s, and one of her favorite places to “go and paint” was Santa Fe.
      Yeah, just thinking about ice cream makes me want some, too.

  13. Love the Ann Voskamp quote Marylin! You have a very nice collection of door photos. I would guess what’s behind the modern Santa Fe-style door. I’m visualizing an artist’s studio with cathedral ceilings and lots of very tall windows.
    What a great way to spark creativity. I think I’ll try this game on my grandchildren. Thank you.

    • I should have shown the entire front of the house, Theresa. I love your description, but actually it’s a one level (with little basement windows), and so far the owners have only focused on the front door. (Maybe it’s going to be a slow, expense process, so they’re taking their time.) The rest of the front of the house is very non-Santa Fe style. I guess we can’t judge a house by its door, but it sure is fun to try!

  14. Oh I A-DOOR this post Marylin! (Surprised Rod didn’t come up with that one 😉 )
    Seriously though, for me, visual prompts are the best. I could probably come up with a scenario for each of your doors pictured here. In fact, I might just give it a go. This would be a great exercise to do with some of our students too.
    What a way to get your Mom’s mind working – that is really clever.
    Hope your cough’s holding off this weekend. We’ve lovely sunshine here so I’m looking forward to a touch of vitamin D for a bit of natural healing.

    • Thanks, Jenny. My cough responded to our Vit-D sunshine, too, this weekend. Plus I was staying in a former convent with no phones or TV or distractions–free to write and paint and do art–it was a writing retreat, the kind my mother would have loved years ago.
      I’m so glad you A-Door this post!!! (I think Rod was a bit preoccupied with the desire for ice cream.)

  15. A wonderful post… I will look at doors from now on as having far more creative potential than I had ever thought!

    • Thanks, for joining us!
      It really does change how you imagine what goes on behind closed doors to use just the senses when you imagine stepping across the threshold. Despite my mother’s basic happy and hopeful nature before the dementia, there were doors when we played this game that she refused to imagine opening. She just got a feeling looking at the house, and she told me to drive on to another house.
      For horror or murder mystery writers, those would be exactly the doors you would imagine opening…

  16. What a wonderful prompt. I am very taken by the screened-in porch entrance door. It looks friendly and welcoming. Your post reminds me of one of my favourite childhood lift the flap books where you could open doors and windows, starting from the red front door on the front page of the book. The book was cut into the shape of a little cottage. I still have it somewhere.

    • You always have the most interesting details that add more to our topics! I hope you find the book in the shape of a little cottage; as a child I would have loved that book.
      I used a roll of butcher paper and created entire little neighborhoods of houses. Then later I’d unroll the paper and make up stories about each house, who lived there and if they were happy or sad, and why.
      Houses always held a fascination for me.

      • I love the idea of your little neighbourhoods. I remember those rolls of butcher paper too though I certainly wasn’t as creative as you with them.

  17. Don

    Love your images Marilyn. Those two chairs on the verandah look so quaint and interesting.

    • Those are pioneer twig chairs, Don. Supposedly you use cut spindly willow branches, soak them, then form the frame and fill in with weaving other branches in. I think these were “sealed” with the same oil-base paint trim used on the trim of the house.

  18. Doors symbolise so much, from living to eternal silence. An endearing post as ever.

    • Thank you so much. You’re right about the symbols, in life and in literature, as well as metaphors for all kinds of journeys. I’ve always been fascinated by doors, and before her dementia, so was my mother.

  19. Great quotes and what a lovely way to get your mother to focus on her views of houses along your drives. I like the cozy houses, the best! I have drawn pen and ink drawings of 8 home tours, 6 in Delaware and 2 in Lancaster. I enjoy the old fashioned ‘gingerbread look’ of some of the smaller homes I have drawn. The AAUW (I belonged to during this time) would make stationery to sell for a program for girls, called “Be Wise.” The girls who would enter to win one of the two scholarships to a science and math ‘camp’ at a university made you wish to sponsor more girls! Anyway, I was saying this to tell you that I look for those details, even when I walk on my way to the library or to exercise! I have thought it would be a little like Thomas Kincade, that I like to look into the golden lit windows. Now, since you suggested it, I will analyze doors, too, Marylin! Smiles, Robin

    • This is amazing, Robin. My mother served on the scholarship committee for her local AAUW many years ago!
      I’m so impressed that you do pen and inks of some many homes in Delaware and Lancaster. Will you ever post some of them on your blog? I’d love to see them, and so would others!

  20. A wonderful memory jogger and a creative prompt. I love the colorful Santa Fe door and Flora Whittemore’s quote: “The doors we open and close each day decide the lives we live.” In my life, I’ve always felt that some doors are wide open for discovery while others are nailed shut. Blessings to you and your Mom.

    By the way, I was eating a fudgesicle even before I finished reading your post. You can never go wrong with ice cream. 😉

    • 🙂 This is so funny, Judy–a common theme!–we all scream for ice cream!
      My mom certainly did, but first she played the door game.

      The door exercise really is a good “thinking” prompt, and my favorite door quote is definitely Flora Whittemore’s. The ones we choose to open or close–or lock entirely–definitely decide (or predict or reflect) the lives we live.

  21. Doors are such a fascinating metaphor. I love the game you play “What’s Behind the Door?” It has gotten both you and your mother outside the restrictions of four walls.

    Europeans seem to place a greater emphasis on doors than we Americans do. I remember being awe-struck by many in Ireland, Italy, or France. They were often impressively tall, luridly colorful, or embellished with fascinating ornaments.

    At the entrance of the door to the main library in Jacksonville is the posting: Start here – Go anywhere. Great quotes, Marylin.

    I’ll add one more: Happiness often sneaks in through a door you didn’t know you left open. John Barrymore

    • I’ve never been to Ireland, Marian, but I do remember doors in Italy, France, and especially church doors in Germany. To me, it was always a natural thing to “create” people behind the door and tell a story about what they were doing.

      With thanks you to and John Barrymore for the great quote about Happiness sneak through a door you didn’t know you’d left open. I love it!

  22. Hi Marylin, what a beautiful post! I have always been attracted to beautiful doors! My favorites are wooden carved ones and the turquoise ones I saw many times when I was in Greece a few years ago.
    I love the game you played with your mom! I will have to try that sometime. It sounds wonderful!
    xo Joanne

    • You and Marian are whetting my desire to travel to Ireland and Greece, Joanne!
      When I was in New Hampshire at a writing workshop, I stayed in an upstairs room of a farm house that had been built before Colorado was even a defined territory. My room had wide floorboards, and the hearth of the fireplace was huge, big enough that my writing desk could have fit inside. But it was the original, restored front and back doors that amazed me. They were just slightly larger than normal size, but they were thick wood, very strong, and inside there were wide hooks that could hold long pieces of wood and keep the doors bolted shut. And the shutters on the windows actually closed and locked from the inside, too.
      Very functional, defensive doors and shutters for dangerous time.

      • Wow, I can picture those thick doors and they must have been something. I’ve only seen something like that on tv or in the movies- never in person! Very cool….

      • Thanks, Joanne. With your talents, you could have arranged a gala dinner celebration! We ate our meals in a huge former horse stable; the double doors at both ends opened onto wonderful New Hampshire views, and the former stalls along the inside walls had been converted to private writing areas with desks and lamps and chairs. It was amazing.

  23. Marilyn, thank you for sharing yet another beautiful story of you and your mom. I like your door game and the beautiful quotes. A saying that comes to mind is: When one doors closes, another one opens. I don’t know who should get the credit for this. I’ve heard it many times and I’ve used it as well.
    Your posts about your mom have encouraged me to do more with my mom. Your influence has taken wings.

    • Oh, thank you for that, Elaine. It makes me very happy to imagine the “wings” of our stories taking flight.
      My grandmother–and my mother, too–used to say that when one door closes, another one opens. My mother also sometimes said that God never closes a door without opening a window. Both women had numerous ways of encouraging others not to give up!

  24. What a creative and stimulating mental exercise for those with dementia or even children in the car. The quotes are so true.

    • You’re right, Lynne, what stimulates the thinking of children often works well for those with dementia and Alzheimer’s. I think that’s why children who visit their grandparents (or in our case, their great-grandparents) often connect well and elicit such positive responses.

  25. Good afternoon Marylin! I love this post. I have always had a partiality to doors. I love to photograph them. You are right, each door has a world unto itself and it is ever so fun to imagine the life, or lack thereof, going on behind them. I’ve always played this game with my own imagination, and have brought my children into this a time or two, but must now make it a point to do it often! Thank you for the reminder! Have a wonderful week! XO

  26. Good afternoon to you, too, Robyn!
    I think you and your children will have fun with this. Some of your wonderful flower photographs make me wonder who would send the flower, who would receive it…and all kinds of story ideas emerge. It’s part of the process of “shared creativity,” I think!
    I had an amazing weekend at the Franciscan Center on a writing retreat, and I’ll be writing about it next week. Deer roamed around everywhere. You would have had a wonderful time with your photography!

  27. Hi Marylin, I’ll be going through a new door soon as I’m in the midst of packing. Doors have always intrigued me as well. I loved the photos and the quotes, and now I’d love some ice cream, please. 🙂

  28. One of my earliest memories is of a door, only I was on the inside. I was 4 or 5, and someone was speaking with my father. It was a turning point in our lives, though to this day I don’t know what was said. It must have been bad news — that’s the sense I had and still have. And my father didn’t seem the same after that. Your writing prompt has me wanting to write a story about that visitor, maybe from his perspective, as he sets out to deliver bad news. Thanks for jogging a memory and for getting the creative juices flowing!

  29. What a memory, Darla! Recalling this much from when you were so young might mean you have more details just waiting, trying to nudge their way to the surface. I hope that whether you write a story or a memoir, your pen flies and your heart soars…and along the way you remember more details from your childhood!

  30. I like this post (and this exercise) so much Marylin. I have added your blog to my Feedly and look forward to reading many of your back posts when we get settled down for a while. (In process of getting ready to travel right now.)
    Loved your “pelican story” in your comment on my blog and I will try to link below to an old post I wrote which shows an even closer-up view of one (he sat on our boat). We never tire of seeing these guys!

  31. Nancy Parker Brummett

    Can’t remember if I commented yet but I loved this post. Doors have always fascinated me and are so full of meaning! Thanks for this.

  32. Jane Thorne

    Marylin, I think we’d spark well if we were together for a visit and enjoy an ice cream cone or two….sometimes it is just having the courage to walk through a new doorway, or to walk through one where we know what awaits us on the other side. 🙂 Xx

    • I agree, Jane. Wouldn’t that be fun to meet for laughter and ice cream cones? And we would only have to travel a few thousand miles. 😉 I received a “favorite” bumper sticker from a sweet, funny friend who surprised me with this: “Keep Honking While I ReLoad”–this post has “triggered” some amazing responses.

  33. I love doors too Marylin, as I do windows, always end up taking photos of them when out and about it and an old one catches my eye in particular. I love this idea for a prompt though, really great. I think I need all the help I can get, lately, I’ve been told a couple of times lately that my stories are a bit flat. Think I need to get out more! Or maybe just get an ice cream cone 😉

    • When in doubt, always go out for an ice cream cone, Sherri!
      Your blog has some of the most spectacular and interesting doors, and windows, too. Here’s a writing prompt for you: Write a scene where you do IN through a door and then OUT through a window. Or reverse it; go IN through a window and OUT through a DOOR. How would that change the focus of the scene?

  34. Those are wonderful quotes and fantastic photos for prompts. The first one immediately set me thinking of my frontier ancestors, not all of whom survived very long in a hostile environment…. Hmm, this could lead to a blog post down the line!

  35. When I think of all the struggles and dangers our ancestors endured, I’m in awe that they faced such odds to find their own place on the land and make homes. As we travel across Colorado and all the way to the southeast corner of Kansas, I’m touched and astounded by the many cemeteries on the plains, bordered by fences and adorned by trees planted among the headstones. I look forward to reading your blog about your ancestors!

  36. Great post but sad, too. I’m glad you found a way to talk to your Mom.

    • It is sad that we can’t successfully do this any more. But for several years as the dementia was taking over, it got my mother actively involved and she came up with some very creative ideas.
      We do what we can, right?

  37. The more I think of your post, the more power I can see in this “Door” game you have so beautifully described, interspersed as you have done that with door pictures. Indeed looking at any of those doors does open up one’s imagination. I could almost visualise the haystack and the hanging lantern….

    Great post.


    • Thank you, Shakti. I know exactly which picture you’re referring to, and if you click on the picture to make it larger, you’ll see a caretaker in pioneer dress in the distance. There’s a barn nearby, too, with a haystack at the end of the corral. All kinds of story ideas come to mind!

  38. Beautiful as usual Marylin as you carry us along on yours and your Mothers journey. You have so much knowledge as a caregiver and supporter and learned a lot from your writings. My mother is now going through dementia and it’s a very new beginning for all of us.

    • Oh, Mary, you have quite a journey ahead. But my mother’s dementia is much calmer than my dad’s Alzheimer’s was, though both destroy memories at about the same rate. I wish you great patience, gentle humor and many blessings during your journey with your mother.

  39. I love the sense of loving patience and gentle care that comes through your writing. Alzheimer’s and Dementia can be so heartbreaking that it’s good to read a story where love stayed supreme.

  40. My Mom loves to quote poems or long passages that she had to memorize in grade school. She also likes to tell me all sorts of childhood and young adult stories of her life. She will water a plant, while we sit and drink coffee and eat a treat together, possibly every five to ten minutes, until it overflows. Then, noticing, she stops watering it. I know that her recent ‘hiding’ things is partially due to her suspicion of different people coming in her room, but I call it (in my head, never to her) “wild goose chases.” I am grateful, like you, to hear about the old days for it helps me to know and remember more of her lifetime. These are precious moments, not to be trite, but to be sincere. Robin

  41. Another very thoughtful and interesting post! I love the idea of the doors game. I chose Santa Fe 🙂 Great quotes too!

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