The people who sell the bleach, detergents, trash bags, brooms and brushes love to see me coming this time of the year. For two or three weekends, I've been lugging the vacuum cleaner up and down the stairs. I've already totaled one shop vac filter because I did not know you have to remove it before use on a watery Baltimore cellar floor still showing the effects of March's rains and the February thaw.
So why do I enthusiastically embrace the ritual of spring housecleaning?
I like it. I like to come downstairs on a cool Baltimore spring morning and see the sun reflected on the bare wood floors. I like my windows open so wide that the birds wake me up at a little after 5 each morning. I like to celebrate the Baltimore of clean marble steps (mine are wood) and canvas awnings in the summer.
I am done with winter and need to say so in a constructive way.
My rule of thumb is to get the house totally cleaned before the Preakness. Then I pray that by that Saturday afternoon in May, the first roses in my garden will be ready to cut and bring inside. The house will be spring-clean for about a month. Once the real heat sets it, I could not care less about cleaning.
Last week, I began rolling up the wool rugs for summer storage and thought of how, years ago, I watched my entire family get into springcleaning mode. I've often told the stories of my grandmother and her sister, but I edited those tales. They might have been the generals in the housecleaning wars, but they had plenty of troops supporting them. My Uncle Jack hauled screens out of the cellar and washed them. My father wore out sets of car tires hauling gallon jugs of a chemical solvent called Varnolene home from the hardware stores.
My mother ran a washing machine for hours and never touched a piece of wearing apparel. She washed the summer scatter rugs, curtains and slipcovers. After the last two categories were ironed (huge chore), the slipcovers had to be forced over the furniture they no longer fit (shrinkage) and the summer curtains hung. There were once summer window blinds, which are no longer being manufactured.
We worked hard keeping the old Guilford Avenue house spotless and ready for the summer. One task we didn't have involves the installation of window air conditioners. We had no a/c at all.
We didn't really use fans. We suffered for a while and then left for the beach.
I am still considering central air, but in the meantime, there are window units and a lot of cussing the day I try to get them all in. They are a nuisance, but they do cut down on the misery of a Baltimore July night.
Sometime in the 1980s, some enterprising merchant decided to start offering summer straw rugs again. The 1960s and 1970s were not very kind to the type of spring housecleaning I knew from my family — and the type of housecleaning they refused to surrender to.
It became easy to buy summer rugs — woven sisal floor coverings that look tropical. It's kind of a joke making a St. Paul Street house into something out of Key West, but why not?
I've lived a long time in a 12-month cycle of changing curtains, dousing mothballs, washing screens, dusting off glider cushions, hanging awnings, Windexing windows, weeding a garden and assembling a Christmas train village.
Somewhere along the way, I have a very merry time doing it.