For most of last month, the Woodward household ran on adrenaline.
The reason ostensibly was a visit from out-of-state friends we seldom see; we wanted the house and yard to look extra nice. But it became more than a mere cleaning, even a spring cleaning. It became a purge. Think Bob Villa and Martha Stewart on steroids.
My wife and I have been in our house 27 years now, raised three kids and helped raise two grandkids there. You collect a lot of stuff with that much living, and the place where it happens gets its share of scuffs, scars and scratches. Occasional overhauls are needed. And every so often you have to bite the bullet and do things you’ve been putting off for too long.
Topping our to-do list was the garage. It wasn’t as if it never gets cleaned; garage cleanings are semi-regular occurrences at our house. But over time things accumulate. Things you either can’t bring yourself to throw away or that are impossible to throw away.
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The former included boxes of children’s books, baby shoes, skis, special-edition newspapers and magazines, career mementos and other flotsam, all of which we had in abundance. The latter covered the spectrum from hazardous-waste materials to you’ve heard the expression “everything but the kitchen sink”? We had one of those, courtesy of a remodeling. Cast iron, gut-wrenchingly heavy. At risk of rupturing something, I loaded it into the trunk. A recycling center gave me three bucks for it.
A grinding day of work liberated a corner unseen in 20 years. That our visitors were unlikely to see it was irrelevant. The garage was functional again.
The downstairs office was another story. These days it doubles as a nursery for our grandson, meaning that unused office trappings were competing for too little space with too many toys and a play pen. Something — a lot of things, actually — had to go. Out went old files, letters, brochures, catalogs, business cards, bank statements, a metric ton or so of books, investment papers dating to roughly the Carter administration, floppy discs, the mimeograph machine.
OK, I’m kidding about the mimeograph machine, but you get the idea. The books went to the Idaho Youth Ranch, but a lot still remained to be hauled away. Our recycling bin was as tightly packed as Donald Trump’s hairspray cabinet.
The Youth Ranch also was the beneficiary of 16 (this is not a misprint) bags and several boxes of old clothes, thanks to multiple closet purges. I hated to give up my tie-dyed shirts and bell bottom pants, but you can’t save everything.
The family room couch had seen better days, so we ordered a new one, which the salesman assured us was likely to arrive before our guests did.
The flat-screen TV I bought my wife for Christmas was still in its box, so we decided it was time to hook it up to replace the one on the kitchen counter. It was old and clunky, but the one thing I was sure the Youth Ranch would be happy to accept.
It wasn’t. If you can use a clunky, 13-inch color TV in working order at a reasonable price — free — let me know.
The yard had projects I’d been putting off until next year for roughly a decade. Taming the ivy, for example. For years it had been trying to worm its way under the siding, strangling flowers and otherwise misbehaving. It was all I could do to keep it at bay. What was needed was an all-out assault, possibly involving powerful explosives.
For the uninitiated who are thinking of planting ivy, a word of advice: Don’t. Ivy, especially Boston ivy, is the botanical equivalent of termites and pythons. It destroys siding. It wraps itself around trunks of trees and chokes them. It’s been known to demolish brick chimneys. You’d be better off planting noxious thistle.
English ivy is almost as bad. The hosts of a banquet my wife and I attended some time ago gave us a basket of English ivy that had been used as our table’s centerpiece. I planted it in the front yard. By this spring, the erstwhile centerpiece covered roughly 30 square feet and had a death grip on one of my favorite trees.
Wrestling the ivy monsters involved more hard work than I wanted to do, so we took the easy way out and hired someone. He was young and strong, and it was grueling even for him.
In the backyard, I power-washed the deck and happily recalled that it was made of redwood. It had been weathered-gray so long I’d forgotten.
With the yard work finished, we focused on some jobs we’d been putting off indoors. I prepped and painted window sills and molding that were showing their age. My wife cleaned the refrigerator. She was bent over the vegetable drawer and I was on my hands and knees furiously scrubbing a baseboard under a kitchen cabinet when one of our daughters popped in.
“I wish I had a video of you guys,” she said. “You’re working like dogs to do all this stuff your friends will never see.”
She was right. They would never see most of what we’d done.
But we would. Their visit went well, and now that it’s over we’re enjoying a brief interlude of doing next to nothing in a house and yard that require nothing.
Life, where is thy sting?
Tim Woodward's column appears every other Sunday and is posted on woodwardblog.com the following Mondays. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.