There's comfort in keeping a tradition, even when it's a pain Chore: The habits of a lifetime take over: When the seasons change, so do the rugs.

October 17, 1998|By Jacques Kelly

ONE NIGHT THIS week I thought it was cold enough to put down the winter rugs, a little domestic ritual that I refuse to surrender: Straw rugs in the summer, wool rugs in the winter.

Don't ask why. It was the way I was raised, and I just like the practice, the way I like a hot furnace and fruitcake in December and ice tea and short sleeves in July. Maybe it's because Baltimore's seasons are so marked, so different, that semi-annual change is a good thing.

My house didn't come with a proper Baltimore cellar rug box, a long, boxy chamber where conscientious housekeepers stored their carpets when they weren't in use. A few years ago I had a carpenter build a version of one -- a wood storage rack that keeps the carpets more or less off the floor. I decided to have the sides left open so the rugs wouldn't get musty, but they still do.

Each spring and fall when I change the rugs, I wonder if I'm more than a little bit crazy. It's a lot of work, and just to remind me how eccentric I am, my right knee starts giving me trouble.

But it's the fall, and there ought to be more to life than the commercial horror that Halloween has become. Let the parents spend $50 on costumes and another $100 on candy and parties. I'll stick to descending into my own cobwebby cellar and creating my own October mischief.

There was an insect party waiting for me the night I decided to explore the land of the furnace and the stored Christmas garden.

A couple of crickets jumped out immediately. The spiders are more clever at hiding. Their nests were stuck up inside the rug platform.

I always expect to spot a mouse too, but they prefer the warm kitchen, where one of their number consumed a good chunk of a loaf of whole wheat bread this week.

They also nibbled on the three ears of Indian corn that I hadn't bothered to string up on the front door. I can only blame myself for procrastinating.

There's always a little drama on rug-change day. If nothing else, some hunk of stored debris is always in the way. On Thursday night I did in the glass on a framed picture of seagulls.

The largest of the rugs, a dining room carpet, requires two people to get it up the steps. Then the dining room table has to be picked up. And no matter how many times you eyeball the rug, it's never aligned as straight as you might want it. I decided to postpone this ordeal. It really doesn't have to be down by the end of October, the way my grandmother and her sister would have demanded. They ran the old Guilford Avenue house where I learned how to wage a proper fall housecleaning campaign.

There was always great drama the days the rugs came and went out. They shipped the rugs out to be washed each year. This meant scheduling a pickup and delivery date, a cause for much consternation because it was assumed the delivery guys, given access to a house they didn't own, would walk off with some booty.

Just to show that petty crime is nothing new, a watch my brother Eddie had carried home from Switzerland disappeared from a dresser on one of those rug days. Great Aunt Cora launched into a tirade on the phone with the rug cleaners. She made charges and they denied responsibility.

The loss of the watch made for hours of talk and speculation. By the time the story got old, you would have thought the gang that knocked off the Brinks office in Boston had visited the Kellys on Guilford Avenue.

My brother, in recalling that event, had a different, more telling perspective on it. The loss of his watch was nothing, he said. It was the October rug ordeal, including his part in the lugging and positioning, that was the real pain.

Pub Date: 10/17/98

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