When Marathon Makes Walk Tough, The Tough Turn To Uncluttering

October 14, 2006|By JACQUES KELLY

Call me the crank of Charles Village, but when the Baltimore Marathon undermines my normal Saturday walking routine, I get grouchy. The runners cross through my neighborhood not once but twice, and they cut off the streets where I normally pass.

Last year, I was doing errands with a friend, and we had to take the Jones Falls Expressway downtown and cross under the Howard Street Bridge just to reach Hampden and get home again. And it's not just the marathon. Artscape ties half of the mid-city in knots, and you almost have to hire a helicopter to visit family and friends in Federal Hill during a Ravens game.

This year, I considered my limited options and decided it would be best just to stay home. I'll follow the family muse to hit fall housecleaning pretty hard. I'm singling out the kitchen pantry and built-in dining room cupboard for ruthless throwing out and elimination. Or at least that's my intention.

The problem is, I'll spend more time than it takes to run the marathon deciding whether I can live without something I have not touched since the day I placed it in my unintentional archive.

I used to think that my grandmother, Lily Rose, and her sister, Aunt Cora, were pretty rigorous cleaners. They were. But they were also adept at taking the coward's way out. Both were guilty of moving stuff to the cellar and placing it in the storage cupboards their son/nephew, my own Uncle Jacques, made after they got rid of the coal bin.

Despite the energetic efforts of my sister Ann, those spaces in the old house are still thick with stuff. I say I'll never hoard, but we all know there is no getting around genetics. There would have to be a monthlong marathon before I could untangle my own cellar, and I've only lived in my house for 27 years. My grandmother moved into hers in 1915, and her family is still living there.

My brother Eddie lives in my other grandmother's house in South Baltimore. Her father built the place in 1881. Eddie is perhaps the family's best chucker of old stuff, but he also contributes to the problem because he's one of the most generous gift-givers. However, one of the joys of a fairly large family, centered in Baltimore, is that we all get together and often exchange stuff.

For example, a large bowl decorated with Chinese-style goldfish went from my dining room cupboard to my sister's Mimi's home and might one day land elsewhere. The vacancy it opened became a perfect spot for the Halloween decorations given me by my sister Josie. I've got some lamps for my sister Ellen's daughter, who partially furnished her home by looking downstairs at her aunts' and uncles' storerooms.

As a child, I was always being put down by my elders when I requested something new. I was told I didn't need that because there was always one to be had, for free, in the cellar. The only effective come back I had was a rapid reply in the form of a daunting challenge: OK, you are right. Go find it.


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