This housecleaning season, I resolved to hit my possessions hard -- discard, liberate and cleanse. Last week, I made commendable headway by tossing a stack of photographs of unknown people. My mother gave me a box of family pictures in 1971. It's taken me that long to thin it out. Why be overly hasty about tossing that 1897 posed picture of Miss Nobody from North Broadway?
Many times before, I've told the story about my grandmother, Lily Rose, and her sister, Cora, and their determination to master spring housecleaning. Now it's time to release some truths. Yes, they were impressive, energetic cleaners. They stripped rooms and changed draperies, rugs and lampshades for the season. They tore the house apart. But they did not necessarily throw much away. They were experts at organizing and restacking.
As a child, I recalled the pride they had when the old coal bins and furnace were cleared away and that space became what we called a club cellar. My uncle, Jacques, dutifully constructed cupboards and cabinets -- quite nice storage chambers that took them about a month to fill, then be declared unusable because they were filled to overflowing.
Over the years, they amassed daunting collections. Their personal stashes of stuff (we are not talking value here) became deep and compacted. I share their blood, and I'm afraid I now share their inclinations.
I took a call the other day from my sister, who said we have to deal with the trunks in the family's 1915 Guilford Ave. cellar that have stood uninspected since Eisenhower was in the White House. She insisted that the leather bindings on these containers were disintegrating. This task sounds like real work. See what happens when you never move or need to rent a temporary storage cube?
Let's face it. It's hard to do away with, say, 37 years of my own newspaper clippings. And how could I possibly discard my grandfather's 1916 wedding suit? How about his 1923 checkbook? Even though I possess no woodworking ability -- or any real tools -- there are piles of scrap wood in my cellar awaiting a do-it-yourself project I'll never undertake.
I wonder how this little lumberyard got there. I had my then-wet cellar dug out to the foundation walls 17 years ago (it had to be emptied of possessions for this Panama Canal-like construction project to happen), and yet this small Home Depot of lumber has reappeared.
As my ancestors did, I find myself cleaning and recleaning those things I never use.
It's easy to blame our weather. No Baltimore cellar is truly dry. I can last only about an hour below the first floor. After a while, the scent of the Patapsco is too much to take, and I mutter that I've been through enough, walk up the stairs and take a needed nap.
Many times I've threatened to follow the examples of my neighbors and hold a sidewalk sale. I don't. Instead, I patronize their sales and add to my own inventory.