If it looks like housecleaning, we can call it that


I GENERALLY shoot for the Saturday between the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness to tear my house apart for the summer. It's fun. It's therapy. And it's what my genes order me to do.

I think of this ritual as pretend spring housecleaning. By day's end, my house appears to be refreshed and stripped down for the summer -- without the agony of real cleaning that my Baltimore ancestors practiced so thoroughly before they shuttered the place and sensibly left town for the summer.

I'll roll up the dining room rug and store it in the cellar, along with the other wool carpets I feel like banning until October. (I'm lazy and don't bother beating the rugs to blast out the dirt. That chore can wait for the fall.)

The fun begins with the straw matting that goes down to replace the winter rugs. Thanks to some treaty or trade agreement this country must have with Third World suppliers, you can now readily buy inexpensive sisal rugs.

This wasn't the case 20 years ago, when what was offered fell apart quickly. So I bought them in excess when they reappeared in fashion. Now I have an inventory that could outfit a summer hotel on the equator.

Summer rugs are somewhat ridiculous -- like straw hats and seersucker suits. But I descend from a family that had summer everything -- clothes, menus, addresses -- even lamp shades.

A dozen years ago I let a draper in my house. As a result, the living room and dining room are fitted with what he called "window treatments," which makes it sound as if the sashes are being treated for psoriasis.

These draperies are beautifully constructed, with one drawback. They are attached with screws into the window frames. After 12 years of no cleaning, I've decided they harbor stuff I don't want to think about. I'll take them down today, if they haven't dry-rotted and fall apart in my hands.

The white cotton slipcovers for the dining room chairs are detachable; I threw them in the washing machine a couple of years ago. Big mistake. They shrank, but I still like the way they look.

A few years ago a heating contractor laughed when I sought his estimate for central air conditioning. So I have a couple of tubby window units, which do the trick on those nights when you want to curse our torrid weather. Installing them is another matter. It involves moving a sofa, rigging the units with shims, then praying that neither shakes loose and falls through a canvas awning.

Last year's installation proved very faulty. The angle of the outward tilt was not sharp enough. The humidity squeezed out of the air sent puddles of water across the second floor. I solved the problem by buying a plastic trash can to catch the drip, then recycled the water on the flower beds.

Installing the window units is one chore I don't like, maybe because it's just too practical. The things actually work, but they don't have the fun value of sisal rugs, canvas awnings and banished draperies.

People who don't know me very well sometimes ask why I go to the trouble of lugging rugs and trussing up chairs in cotton slipcovers. The answer, I guess, is that I grew up with all these seasonal rituals and got to like them.

It has something in common with the muggy July afternoon last summer I spent discussing the merits of poppy seed varieties at the Meyer Seed Co. in Fells Point.

Now I've got a garden full of flowers that look like they were made of some sort of botanical crepe paper. When they die, they'll have to be yanked out. It's work too -- but that doesn't ever stop me from sowing those seeds.

Pub Date: 5/09/98

Copyright © 2020, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad