The people who sell the bleach, detergents, trash bags, brooms and brushes love to see me coming this time of the year. For two or three weekends, I've been lugging the vacuum cleaner up and down the stairs. I've already totaled one shop vac filter because I did not know you have to remove it before use on a watery Baltimore cellar floor still showing the effects of March's rains and the February thaw.
So why do I enthusiastically embrace
the ritual of spring housecleaning?
I am done with
winter and need to
say so in a constructive
My rule of thumb
is to get the house totally
the Preakness. Then
I pray that by that
in May, the first roses
in my garden will be ready to cut and
bring inside. The house will be
spring-clean for about a month. Once
the real heat sets it, I could not care
less about cleaning.
Last week, I began rolling up the
wool rugs for summer storage and
thought of how, years ago, I watched
my entire family get into springcleaning
mode. I've often told the stories
of my grandmother and her sister,
but I edited those tales. They
might have been the generals in the
housecleaning wars, but they had
plenty of troops supporting them. My
Uncle Jack hauled screens out of the
cellar and washed them. My father
wore out sets of car tires hauling gallon
jugs of a chemical solvent called
Varnolene home from the hardware
My mother ran a washing machine
for hours and never touched a piece of
wearing apparel. She washed the
summer scatter rugs, curtains
and slipcovers. After
the last two categories were
ironed (huge chore), the slipcovers
had to be forced over
the furniture they no longer
fit (shrinkage) and the summer
curtains hung. There
were once summer window
blinds, which are no longer
We worked hard keeping
the old Guilford Avenue
house spotless and ready for
the summer. One task we didn't have
involves the installation of window
air conditioners. We had no a/c at all.
We didn't really use fans. We suffered
for a while and then left for the beach.
I am still considering central air,
but in the meantime, there are window
units and a lot of cussing the day
I try to get them all in. They are a nuisance,
but they do cut down on the
misery of a Baltimore
Sometime in the
1980s, some enterprising
to start offering summer
straw rugs again.
The 1960s and 1970s
were not very kind to
the type of spring
housecleaning I knew
from my family — and
the type of housecleaning
they refused to surrender to.
It became easy to buy summer rugs —
woven sisal floor coverings that look
tropical. It's kind of a joke making a
St. Paul Street house into something
out of Key West, but why not?
I've lived a long time in a 12-month
cycle of changing curtains, dousing
mothballs, washing screens, dusting
off glider cushions, hanging awnings,
Windexing windows, weeding a garden
and assembling a Christmas
Somewhere along the way, I have a
very merry time doing it.
Ritual of opening up the house to the new season
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