New products can lessen effort of spring cleaning

May 08, 2004|By JACQUES KELLY

I BEGAN writing an annual ode to old-fashioned Baltimore housecleaning long before certain cleansing agents I used were declared unhealthy. It's one of my most popular tales about old Baltimore, about the week in May when my grandmother, her sister and my mother tore up the old Guilford Avenue house, opened the windows, changed all the curtains, installed slipcovers and straw rugs and were very glad when the ordeal was over.

I always admired their thoroughness. They changed the lampshades, too. I still miss the Mediterranean-influenced parchment 1920s shades used in the dining room from May to early October. One spring, they just disintegrated in my hands.

The house, attired in dark blue linen-weave roll-up shades, became dark and cool, marvelously tropical. And didn't all the Charles Village front porches look a little sportier dressed up in striped canvas awnings?

For all the energy and muscle work associated with housecleaning, what did you get? I say a refreshed house that put you in a summery mood faster than a gin and tonic or a whiskey sour. I still houseclean the way they taught me, but thanks to the wonderful finishes we now use on old Baltimore wood floors, and other little patented tricks (I think I eat Swiffers), the labor is not so bad these days. I enjoy it.

My friends love sitting on my back porch under a canvas awning. My winter wool rugs still make a trip to the basement for a summer vacation. I don't miss them at all.

I really like that summer rugs have made a determined, pleasant comeback. How crazy am I? Crate and Barrel, IKEA and Pier 1 stock all sorts of grassy mats. A friend of mine says I can't walk past a retailer's rug bin without succumbing.

Talk about mental therapy. What could be better than clean windows achieved with an ammonia bottle and some elbow grease? Baltimore's wretched air pollution will undo your labors in a couple of weeks, but maybe until Memorial Day you'll enjoy sparkling glass.

Even people who don't houseclean the way my grandmother did still face a rigorous springtime agenda. Isn't scrubbing down the Weber grill as much work as scouring a gas range? Power washing and resealing a wooden backyard deck looks to me like as much work as attacking an old Baltimore rowhouse's wood floors with steel wool.

I often notice my neighbors' yard-sale labors. They clean out the basement, carry the stuff upstairs and hold a morning-long street bazaar. It fulfills my definition of domestic work.

In the old days, we just let the stuff stay untouched in the cellar for years. A junky cellar just added character to the old house. We are still looking for my cousin Billy-O's Buddy L toy train coal tender. It disappeared in the back of the yard-goods cupboard about 1955. My sister Ann thinks she's sighted it, but it will take a couple strong backs to excavate it. In the meantime, it remains buried behind the unused dress-making fabric.

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