Spring cleaning remains a comforting ritual; Tradition: Some call it old-fashioned, but annual shake-up of house is about much more than dirt.


Some people ask me why I tear my house apart each spring. For three or four successive weekends, I've been lugging the vacuum cleaner up and down the stairs. I've spent so much time in my damp cellar's storage chambers I feel like a coal miner. I can say, with some pride, that I have hand-washed enough woodwork to pass Great Aunt Cora's inspection.

The answer to why I go through the ritual of spring housecleaning is that I like it. I like to come downstairs on a cool Baltimore May morning and see the sun reflected on the bare wood floors. I like my windows open so wide that the birds wake me up at a little after 5 each morning. I like to be as comfortable as I can be for the next four months, a time that can make you feel like a kid again or torment your being with heat exhaustion.

I like to be rid of the wool rugs for the summer. True, it's a pain to roll them up and carry them down the cellar stairs. At the same time, it's liberating to be free of all those dark patterns and warm, wintry colors. And, on a sickening hot Baltimore afternoon, when the mercury and humidity kick in, I hate to enter a closed-up room and smell musty wool rugs.

Sometime in the 1980s some enterprising merchant decided to start offering summer straw rugs. The 1960s and '70s were not very kind to the type of spring housecleaning I knew from my family -- and the type of housecleaning they refused to surrender.

I stocked up and bought the ones in the light, tropical colors. OK, so my house on St. Paul Street isn't in Florida or the Caribbean. But can't I pretend it is for a few weeks when the weather makes me feel it is?

This week I battled the summer slipcovers that I try to put on the furniture in some old-fashioned attempt to protect their coverings from the summer's ultraviolet rays. I'm sure a scientist would say that a slipcover has little effect on preserving the colors in a dining room chair's upholstered seat. But I don't care.

Besides, I play a game each May. The slipcovers invariably shrink and don't fit the contours of the furniture. I battle and pull as if I'm trying to put on a too-small pair of pants.

Often I just admit defeat, pin them in place and warn my guests to be careful as they take a seat. Those prickly pins have a way of working loose.

I also get a surge of energy to ransack my cupboards in search of last summer's clothes. Why is it I secrete my bathing suits in the least likely place? After all, this is Memorial Day weekend and I hear the call of the Atlantic Ocean and the beaches quite distinctly.

I've already been wearing sandals -- it seems like a stupid thing on city streets and pavement, but all my neighbors, especially the younger ones, are doing it.

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 and assembling Christmas gardens. Somewhere along the way, I take the time to have a good time doing it.

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