Doing homework in fall renews Baltimore traditions

September 21, 2002|By JACQUES KELLY

THE CALENDAR says that fall officially arrives in the pitch black hours of Monday morning. For those of us who like to get the jump on the day by rising around 6, the seasonal change is clearly evident. While it feels like summer, it's as dark as December these mornings.

Having been raised in an old-fashioned household that reacted strongly to the changes of Baltimore's climate, I am now in the throes of my self-imposed September frenzy. My grandmother called it housecleaning. I prefer to see it as having a pleasant time in a highly domestic way and maybe getting a little exercise. And let's be honest. After a summer running around to beaches, railroad stations and airports, it's good to be home.

A full two weeks ago I got the dining room rug out of the cellar and down on the floor. I had two helpers because this is a ticklish job; despite our best efforts, we still almost broke the dining room table and light fixture as we unrolled the musty wool. (I thought I was going to get a break over this dry summer. No way. A Baltimore cellar retains its humidity no matter how parched the upstairs seems.)

That day gave me the opportunity to investigate my cellar, to rediscover the rolls of paper towels I'd bought but forgotten about, stashed down there. I spotted the luggage I used for trips to New York taken back in May. I checked the gazillion crickets I've caught on sticky traps placed at strategic intervals near the water pipes and storage shelves.

I also seasonally consider the amount of stuff I store below deck. As a Baltimorean who is unable to jettison much, I kept a large inventory, much of which I forget about three seconds after coming up the cellar stairs and arriving in the kitchen. But it's still a comfort to know it's all down there, even if those boxes provide the crickets with their own jungle gym.

Most of that morning we spent fighting the rats that spent the Baltimore summer vacationing in the ivy that grows so well along St. Paul Street. There is a distinct connection between these rodents and English ivy, which also grows so vigorously this time of the year. Maybe it's the shortening days and the fact rats are nocturnal. Whatever. September is my most active rat-catching season.

Autumn's arrival also carries the urge to discard, clean, uproot and sort. I try to make sense of what I didn't accomplish over this long, miserable heat stretch, which, if you recall, got its start back in April. It was about that time that a friend of mine - I had nothing to say in the matter as I was on vacation in England - deposited an aged upright piano in my living room. He then left town and left me to deal with this massive piece of unwanted musical instrument.

The other evening my father dropped over and took to the 88s. (I should say 87; one key doesn't play). He got through his favorites - the theme from Around the World in 80 Days, then the "Notre Dame Victory March," always appropriate for these September afternoons. Then he played another song, perhaps the most apt of all in this time of lengthening shadows, "As Time Goes By."

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