Spring Cleaning




"Thump. Thump. Bang. Thump."

My nap ended as my mind tried to account for the noise.

"Bang, Thump," I heard again. I shook my head free of sleep, stood up wearily, and followed the noise into HER sewing room. She was awhirl, her face tight and intent, her arm raised, a copy of "American Quilter" in her hand. I watched as her arm came down, her hand forcing the magazine to crash down on a pile of Debbie Mumm fabric she had folded on the shelf to the side of her sewing machine.

"There's a spider in my stash," she said as she turned to see me watching her.

"Sounds like a mighty big one," I said.

She struck again. With her left hand she pushed the fabric along the shelf and with her right she smashed the magazine down. "Done," she said then, a look of complete satisfaction turning her face into delight.

"What was the poor spider doing in your stash?" I asked.

"It's spring," she said.

"Oh," I said. I gave her a doubtful, puzzled look.

"There are a million spiders out there being born, and most of them try to get into this house."

I knew that. I had seen their webs appearing under the eaves of the house. I had seen their webs along the doorways, along the windows. I wasn't too concerned about them. I liked them. They ate the mosquitoes and other nasty insects that I disliked. "Spiders are good," I said.

"Not if they're in my stash," she said. She had uncurled the magazine and was rolling it in reverse to get the curl out of the pages. Every quilting magazine was precious to her.

"Is there anything else in your stash you have to worry about? I don't think I can take any more noise."

"Now that you mention it," she began. Uh-oh! I looked at her. She stood perfectly still and swiveled her precious little head and looked around her room. "There are probably more spiders. Other bugs. I need to protect my stash. Those bugs can get everywhere if we don't control them."

"You want me to spray?" I asked.

"Oh, no. Not in here. You can spray outside. That killer spray may destroy my fabric, wipe out my thread, suffocate my rotary cutter and gunk up my quilting pins."

"All right," I said. I wanted to go back to my nap.

"But...," she continued before I could escape.

"But what?" She was moving boxes around on another shelf.

"It is spring, isn't it?"

"You already know that. You just killed a spring spider."

"I'm ready," she said, changing the subject, whatever the subject might have been.

"You're ready for what?" I asked as I backed up against the wall for support.

"Spring cleaning," she said.

"You want to clean?" I said. I looked around the room. Four packages of cotton batting were standing against a dresser. Two of the dresser drawers wouldn't shut because fabric was piled too high in them. One wall was punched with tacks and pins holding back an avalanche of notes and scraps of paper covered with quilting tips. The desk was covered with pin cushions and scissors and magazines opened to quilt designs she planned to "try someday." The floor was covered in pieces of thread, more scraps, a few loose pins and needles. Cut fabric was hanging over the end of the bed.

"You never clean in here," I said. The rest of the house was spotless, though.

"This is a sewing room," she said in easy explanation. (It looked like some quilt shop after being hurled from Kansas to Oz.) "But it does need a good spring cleaning. I didn't have a chance since I took up quilting."

"It's been a year," I said.

"Do you want to help?" she said, her words so sudden, so quick, they startled me to move farther back into the wall. I was speechless. "Well?" she asked.

I looked at her. Her body had become tense, her muscles taut. I looked at her eyes and saw fiery intent. "Sure," I said. I like having butter on both sides of my bread.

"Then let's do it," she said.


"Now," she said, and so began the wind, the gale, the twister that began to transform the room into a scene of total chaos. I say began. Five minutes later, just as the tempest was at its peak, there was a sudden calm.

"I can't do it," she said.

"What?" I stood in the middle of the room, several yards of Maywood fabric in one hand, my shoulders covered in white-on-white muslin, a box of binding clips in my other hand. She was sitting by the sewing machine. And the sewing machine was turned on. "What?" I said again.

"I know I need to clean up, I really do," she offered in apology, "but I just found this," she said, and she held up a pile of scraps. Actually they were multicolored triangles.

"I cut out all these pieces for the quilt I was going to make in January," she said. "I got busy making the Stack-n-Whack quilt for Rachel, and I forgot about them. I just found them under the bed. "I have to finish the quilt now."

"Right now?" When else?

"We can clean later," she offered as a trade.

"No," I said.

"No what?" she asked.

"You will never clean this room. I know you. You have more projects hidden in this room," I said. I dropped the fabric on the floor. I put the box of clips on her sewing machine table. I undraped the muslin from my body. It was time to face her with the truth.

"You will never have spring cleaning," I began, "even if there were spiders and mice and frogs taking up residence in your stash, even if your room was filled to the ceiling with scraps and thread and batting and books and triangles and squares and strips of fabric from ever mill in the world. Which it very nearly is," I added.

For a moment, she sat still and stared at me, but I watched as her look wavered and she glanced back at the sewing machine and her lost and found pile of triangles. "I have to quilt," she said. Her tone had changed. She was not apologizing.

She was telling me it was time for me to leave, to go back to my nap. Her room was in chaos, but no doubt in time she would straighten some of it up. I know she will. She got the flyer in the mail yesterday telling her about the 40-percent-off sale this weekend. She will need room for her new fabric, her new notions, her new designs, her new books and magazines. In the meantime, she had work to do.

I left her alone. Maybe, just maybe, when summer comes.... Is there such a thing as summer cleaning?

Copyright 1999 by A.B. Silver

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