Before there was Spring Break and Alternative Spring Break, there was spring cleaning, promoted in schools as “Clean Up, Fix Up, and Paint Up Week.” Being in school in Chicago, we really needed the break, and though the winters are brutal in Chicago, it seemed as if that one week that we were on break from school in the spring was always gorgeous with unseasonably warm weather and lots of sunshine. I remember the sunshine because what we did that week at my house was all about the windows.
Washing the windows and whatever was covering the windows was the hardest and most time-consuming part of the week of cleaning, fixing, and painting. However, the clean windows and curtains after the struggles were also the most gratifying result of the week’s work because the result was visible for all to see and it would last until next spring when we would do it all over again.
Windex was too expensive to use on the windows so we saved it for the mirrors. For the windows, we used buckets of soapy water to remove the dirt; then, we rinsed with clear water and white vinegar. We used crushed newspaper to wipe them dry until they squeaked and sparkled. Before we had a washing machine, we washed the lace curtains in the bathtub. When these white lace curtains were hanging at the windows, they didn’t look to be that dirty, but when the soap and water hit them, the water turned black. I was always surprised at the amount of dirt they held.
With our lace curtains, we didn’t just wash them and put them in a dryer or even hang them outside to dry. After washing them, we put starch in them. Then, we put them on curtain stretchers. These were open wood frames on spindly legs with little nails a couple of inches apart all around the frame. To stretch the curtains into shape and dry them, we slipped a piece of the edge of the curtain onto each nail all the way around a long line of rectangular frames that stretched throughout the living room, dining room, and down the hall. If we skipped a nail, when the curtain was dry, the place that was skipped would ruin the entire line of the curtain.
When stretched correctly, the curtains looked great when they dried, but putting them on stretchers was not without consequences. Those little nails pricked and stabbed fingers all the way around the frame because the job had to be done quickly in order to get the curtains on the stretchers before they began to dry with the starch in them causing them to wrinkle beyond imagination.
I was so happy when we got a wringer washer. We never did get a dryer, but it was fine drying the clothes in the yard or on the back porch. It was about the same time that we got the wringer washer that we became more modern and changed the lovely white lace curtains that had become thin and worn with new fiberglass drapes. When it was time to wash these during spring cleaning, we popped them into the washing machine and let it do the dirty work.
The fibers in the fabric of the drapes were some kind of very fine glass needles as the name implies. When we removed the drapes from the washing machine, the static from them shocked the stew out of us! When we handled the drapes, the fiberglass made us itch and scratch. And worse, those glass needles were all throughout the machine and we did not realize this. So later when our clothes were washed in the machine, they were infested with fiberglass. The fiberglass in our clothes caused us to throw them out, and Lord knows we could not afford to throw our clothes away.
After the fiberglass nightmare, we switched to venetian blinds. They were metal white blinds; I don’t know whether or not they were really “Venetian.” No more bloodied fingers from stretching lace curtains, no more fiberglass everywhere causing pain and itching. Alas, the darned blinds had to be taken down and put in the bathtub for cleaning. With soapy water and a sponge, I would wash each blade of the blinds until it was clean and shining. Then I would carefully dry off each blade before the blinds were placed back at the windows. I refer to these blinds as “blades” because there were cuts on all of my fingers from washing and drying those darn blinds.
So what is my point about spring cleaning and windows, in particular? I am using spring cleaning as a metaphor for recommending that we, who are expected to be resources for students, designate a time to take stock, to anticipate transitions, and to seek clarity.
Like the dirty lace curtains I described, we tend to look well enough as we carry out our responsibilities, but what would come out in the wash if we put our reflexive refrain of “I’m fine” to the test? Our own mental and spiritual spring cleaning is not without consequences, and that makes it hard to willingly do.
If we took stock and attended to ourselves at specified times such as when we think of spring cleaning, we might be surprised that we are holding onto some people, causes, ideas, or jobs that we have made more important than our own spiritual comfort or peace of mind. These things, like clothes infested with fiberglass have to be thrown out even if we think we cannot afford to let them go.
As with my experiences with the windows during “clean up, fix up, and paint up week,” where I said that the “clean windows and curtains after the struggles were also the most gratifying result of the week’s work because the result was visible for all to see, and it would last until next spring when we would do it all over again,” I believe that the consequences of mental and spiritual spring cleaning can be endured if we bank on results that will result in a brighter and more sparkling attitude about ourselves and our future.