Winter isn't truly over until the spring cleaning is done

The ritual was passed on by generations

May 13, 2011|Jacques Kelly

The spot on the calendar each year between the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness is reserved. Sometime within those two weeks I accomplish housecleaning. It's a date to truly abolish winter and dispose of any lingering Christmas tree needles. It's a time to strip wool blankets from the bed. It's a time to haul out a bathing suit and consider the possibilities of fitting into it.

This year's housecleaning ordeal is now over, but not before I made three trips to the hardware store and another to Costco. On each occasion I filled a shopping cart.

I've told the story before of how my mother, grandmother and great-aunt tore the old house apart before shutting it down for the summer and heading to the beach. As a child I was struck by their hard work. There was even a special dinner we had on housecleaning day: vegetable soup and cinnamon cake, both homemade. The two sisters worked methodically. They carried a heavy wood stepladder to do the walls and scoured the house's woodwork and trim.

The sisters propped themselves out windows in a way that might make the film comedian Harold Lloyd shudder. If you've ever watched his film "Safety Last," the one where he hangs from the hands of an exterior clock, you get the general picture of Aunt Cora dangling high above the Guilford Avenue skyline with an ammonia rag in one hand and a window frame in the other. They taught me well.

I've grown to really enjoy the ritual of spring housecleaning. When finished, I like to come downstairs on a cool Baltimore May morning and see the sun reflected on the bare wood floors. I like my clean windows open wide. I like to be as comfortable for the next four months, a time that can make you feel like a summertime kid again, free of homework and school uniforms.

I keep a kind of score at housecleaning season. I suffered a couple of defeats this year. Two porch chairs disappeared this past week, a time that is famous in Baltimore for spring theft. I know never to put out pots of flowers before Mother's Day. This is open season for porch and patio heists, and I should have been more vigilant. The gate to my garden fell apart and it somehow never got fixed.

The back of my house got painted this spring and the workers remarked on the size of a hole along the fence that marks my property line. They thought the cavity was evidence of a groundhog. I said no, it's a rat chamber. And sure enough, this furry visitor showed itself as some neighbors came over to see the new paint colors.

I filled the hole with gravel and a bountiful meal of green poison cubes. My neighbor called out the other morning that there had been a kill. Willard the Rat had expired on his side of the property line. I took this as a victory.

Opening the garden and all that entails is the best part of the days otherwise spent with a vacuum cleaner and a bucket of ammonia water. (There is also another agony: Deciding what to pitch out and give to the charity I schedule for housecleaning week.) I bought about a dozen seed packages and spent far more time in the annuals and perennials aisles of the hardware stores than in the more sensible departments of paint and smoke detectors.

This year's cool spring is coaxing on a bumper crop of roses. Obviously, my neighbors share my enthusiasm for the season's first buds planted just outside the front door. As I washed the windows, I observed pedestrians help themselves to my hard work and step up St. Paul Street with mini-bouquets.

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