One of the reasons that I love autumn is because it is time for The Big Big Cleaning.
When I was a child, my grandmothers, my mother, the neighbor ladies, everyone I knew - they all did The Big Big Cleaning twice yearly. I have very clear memories of my grandmother and my mother, both wearing shirtwaist dresses and low heels, standing on dining room chairs while taking down the "summer curtains" to put up the "winter drapes".
My mom (who is still a beautiful woman by anyone's standards) was far more Laura Petri than June Cleaver; she is gorgeous and funny, and had a goofy best friend (Lois, who died of cancer way too young). She also has a knack for doing the kinds of things that would leave my dad scratching his head, and trying to figure out how to fix the results of her latest "adventure".
But as zany as she was (and still is), my mom has always been deadly serious about Keeping The House Clean.
This meant that in addition to the *regular* house cleaning chores that my brother and I had to do as children, twice a year we could count on at least a weekend's worth (maybe more) of *extra* housecleaning fun! Wowee Zowee! We were the luckiest kids in the world!
Now I'm the one who tortures my child with pulling down the curtains so that they can be cleaned, and moving ALL of the furniture around to clean underneath, and touching up the paint, and scrubbing the woodwork, and polishing the windows. Twice a year. Spring and fall.
And I love it. There is something about throwing the windows open on a cool, clear, crisp day to let the blue sky and the lemony-sunshine stream through the house while you chase the dustbunnies out. It's like a last hurrah before you close everything up tight for the winter, a last chance for the house to breathe in the fresh, sweet, apple-cidery air.
It's also something that brings me closer to the women who raised me. My grandmothers, who would tie on an apron like I tie on my Reeboks. My mother, who taught me that it isn't "dirty work", it's taking care of those you love. The neighbor ladies, who would chatter back and forth across the alleyways and the fences as they hung out the wash, or weeded the gardens, always with a watchful eye for all of the children on our block.
So as the cleaning commences, I always find myself a bit nostalgic. We no longer use "kitchen wax" to polish the counters, and I haven't had to scrub the front stoop since I was a teenager. The fridge is self-defrosting, the oven is self-cleaning and the super high-efficiency filters in the central heat and air remove much of the dust before it ever has a chance to settle on the furniture. But I still take down the curtains, I still polish the windows, I still scrub down the bathrooms just like my mother, and her mother before her.
And in my cleanliness, with the sweet, cool autumn air streaming through the house, I will be a little bit closer to these women I still love and admire so much.