A friend of mine in New Jersey vividly described to me once over lunch a spring ritual she has performed annually in her Polish family. Every single item in the house is brought outside onto the lawn and is not returned until the house has been thoroughly scrubbed and polished. Awe-inspiring though the concept of this is, I don’t see it happening even every other decade let alone every spring in my neighborhood.
Me and mine might swashbuckle around a dust rag a little more vigorously, cart a trunkful of boxes of winnowed stuff to the thrift store or whack a few rugs on the railing of the back porch all in the name of “spring cleaning” and call it good. Dragging and scrubbing? No.
My husband Jerry’s family hails much closer geographically to Poland than my Scottish one does, but his Czech roots have not yet manifested in any similar Slavic tendencies to scour annually. He does, however, work circles around most of the humans I know, but in our home this spring we are having philosophical differences of a cleaning variety. In full disclosure, our confrontation is annually predictable and involves the same third party every single year—the garage.
Over the course of a winter, our garage morphs into an outdoor refrigerator/woodshed/landfill. Here we chop wood for our stove, place items for refrigeration on the steps, and also “temporarily” store anything we don’t want in the house—empty boxes, snow gear, bikes, some food storage, birdseed, windshield fluids, air compressors and on and on.
The car is nestled in snugly, and as winter progresses getting the car in and out begins to resemble putting on and removing a tight glove. This winter we took up meat smoking in the garage. I have fine tuned knowing the exact size of the reflection of the headlight in the smoker door and can brake accordingly within a whisker of that smoker. I take pride in that skill.
Fortunately, garages come with doors. You can hide a “world of sins” behind them. Unfortunately, in spite of best efforts, an occasional guest slips innocently into that garage, and all of a sudden our habits are on display! My mortification then knows no bounds. A relative of mine detoured through our garage recently in spite of my defensive violent arm flailing and feeble body block. His garage is pristine. We have held family dinners in his garage! It is rumored he has entertained heads of state with receptions in his garage—unconfirmed but completely believable! His tools are catalogued meticulously along one wall, and carpet stretches along the floor. I can’t even… We also visited a garage recently that had art hanging on the walls! Art!!
This garage “issue” is a wart on the nose of our otherwise fairly congenial marriage. I want to demurely defer its care to the “BIG STRONG MAN” in my life. He wants to ignore it and hope for a crew of robust fairies in tutus and work boots to come and twinkle all the mess away. Poof! And so spring comes and things fester under the surface until inevitably he knows I will clean it, repeat my mantra as the dust swirls (“I love my husband. I love my husband,”) and give him the stink eye for about 24 hours after.
This has been our pattern for decades now. I hesitate to admit that it seems to work for us. As stylistic confrontations go, I admit that disagreeing over garage cleanliness is more tame than say arguing over huge debt or the purchase of another motorcycle or how to discipline teenagers or who hosts Thanksgiving (and that list goes on).
This year as I ruffled through a pile in the garage trying to find the accidentally amputated leg of a wooden camel awaiting surgery, I sighed again at the state of the workbench. Obviously no fairies there recently. I swept around a pile of bricks we salvaged from the recent demise of our city hall. Then I vacuumed up flies, leaves, and dust and placed the rake back in its holder.
This all had a familiar “ring” to it. I understood the rhythm. I sneezed like I always do. I surveyed the made-over garage with an annual satisfaction. Outside Jerry was planting new trees in our fledgling orchard. Then he would haul compost, burn debris and connect hoses. He would be there long after I hung up my broom. Good healthy signs of spring on both our parts…