Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Spring cleaning and Mad Men.

Spring cleaning brings together two very discordant elements for me. I love spring. I hate cleaning.

But for some reason, spring brings out the clean gene, and it's not just me.

I did a bit of research on the history of why we tend to eagerly shake away the cobwebs of winter with the advent of warmer weather and longer spates of daytime. The centuries-old Iranian cleaning custom falls on the Persian new year, and is aptly called "shaking the house", and the same tradition, known as Clean Week, is shared in Greece. In anticipation of Passover, Jewish tradition shares the same housecleaning ritual.

Here in America, spring cleaning is less codified by a religious or hand-me-down culture. Long and short, it feels good to usher in a new season with a freshly scrubbed house. But dusting off, throwing away, reorganizing, can also bring a few ghosts to the surface.

Because you can't get rid of old stuff without waking the gentle tug of memory.

I've been cleaning out an area of my back yard, which we all still call the "play area". The large wooden structure the kids used to play on, complete with slide and swings, was dismantled years ago. Connor used to spend hours in the play area with his Army guys, setting up intricate battalions and making dramatic, spit-producing sounds of battle. 

Connor's in college now, but I still find an occasional deserter who didn't make his way back to his troop. 

I've found Pokemon figurines deeply embedded in the grass, and the occasional Lego emerges from the garden area every year during planting season. 

Pellets from spirited airsoft gun melees are tiny reminders that the past, despite the passage of time, doesn't seem to be very far away.

Remnants of the past have been uncovered inside the house, too. 

The carpet in my basement was there before we moved in, 20 years ago. And I got to the point that I figured anything I'd find underneath would be better than what we'd lazily become accustomed to.

So the boys and I removed the carpet while Connor was home for spring break. And what we found underneath was a complete retro prize.

There's some work involved to get this floor back to its original 1960s coolness, but the sweat equity will be worth it.

Spring cleaning can mean so much more than throwing out old crap that's become a literal and emotional stumbling block. It's about honoring what you find before letting it go, about finding new appreciation for elements of the past that deserve a bit of attention.

In my idle moments, as a diversion to the rites of spring, I serendipitously tripped across Mad Men. I've been voraciously absorbing each episode, eager to watch the dysfunctional function of Don Draper just as much as his 1960s surroundings. Betty's Franciscan Desert Rose dishes; the confetti Melmac bowl used for distributing Halloween candy, the smoking on planes, the copious drinking that often began before lunch. 

It all seems so authentic, and so far away from where we are now.

Not unlike memories that are stirred up like a thick coat of displaced dust, spring cleaning has its place, its necessity, its tradition, even in America.