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Washington Voices

Chasing away dust stirs memories

Thu., April 15, 2010

When my two oldest sons were little they were afraid of monsters under the bed. So I made up a song, and each night when I tucked them in we sang, “There are no monsters under your bed, under your bed, under your bed. There are no monsters under your bed; they’re only in your head.”

It worked well for the boys, however every grown-up knows there comes a time when we must face the darkness beneath our beds. What lurks there may not be hairy wart-covered trolls, or that creepy Burger King mascot with the abnormally large head, but dust bunnies can be pretty frightening. Especially, if they’ve been allowed to multiply, unchecked for months a time.

Those dust bunnies would still be frolicking in their fusty home had not the sun shone one April morning. At least I think the sun was shining. It was hard to see it through my dusty vinyl blinds and streaked bedroom window. That glimpse of sun awakened the spring cleaning warrior within me. Armed with garbage bags, dusting spray, and my stalwart vacuum, Queen Vactoria, I prepared to do battle.

I decided to tackle the closet first and created three piles; keep, toss and donate. With some reluctance I placed my beautiful leather briefcase on the donate pile. It had long ago been replaced by a canvas laptop bag. I added my pink purse with the little hearts because somehow after I turned 40, I lost the nerve to carry it. I kept my pink strappy sandals with the sequins, though.

Digging into the far recesses of the closet I pulled out a blue canvas bag. Nestled within lay the remnants of my ill-fated venture into counted-cross stitch. I don’t know what I was thinking, neither counting nor needlework have ever been my strong suits. Shaking my head, I added my sister’s unfinished Christmas gift from 1993 to the toss pile.

I worked with relentless vigor and soon my closet was a shining gem of organizational wonder. After making another pot of coffee, I tackled the bookcase. Getting rid of clothes and unfinished projects is one thing, but parting with my books is like giving away my children – only harder.

Yet caught in the fevered grip of spring cleaning I put my entire collection of Agatha Christie paperbacks in bags I’d set aside for library donations. That cleared some space and revealed my stash of Daphne Du Maurier books. Part with my dog-eared copies of “Rebecca” or “The House on the Strand”? I don’t think so. Instead, I chose to donate several parenting books. I’m pretty sure I don’t need to hang onto “What to Expect the First Year.”

At last the bookcase gleamed, and my dresser and bedside tables shone with a fresh coat of furniture polish. The blinds and window were as clean as they were going to get. I couldn’t put it off any longer – it was time to clean under the bed.

Beneath my husband’s side of the bed I found a baseball bat, a stack of important looking papers, a plastic dish containing random nails and screws, and empty boxes that once held computer parts. Piling his stuff on top the bed, I fired up Queen Vactoria and vanquished dust bunnies the size of my cat. I knew it wasn’t my cat because he fled the minute he saw the vacuum. Milo and the queen do not get along.

Moving to my side, I pulled out my yoga mat, my dumbbells and a stack of exercise videos – a sad testimony to my inability to stick with any kind of fitness routine. Then I slid out the long plastic box that contains my treasures. Here I store my kids’ artwork, schoolwork, baby books and birthday cards.

I dragged the overflowing box to the living room and began to sift through its contents. I found a lock of my firstborn’s hair, someone’s baby tooth in an envelope I’d forgotten to label, and countless art projects featuring the boys’ once tiny handprints.

Delighted, I lingered over a card a 6-year-old Sam had made for me. In careful block letters, he’d written. “My Mom is a pocketful of love.” He’d illustrated it with a picture of me wearing a crown and surrounded by hearts and flowers.

I discovered notes my husband had tucked inside my car when were dating. “I love you, Babycakes. I’ll call tonight!” And the anniversary cards he gave me every month during our first year of marriage.

The late afternoon sun began to wane as I pulled out a card with the Peanuts character Peppermint Patty on the cover. I opened it to see my dad’s slanting handwriting. He’d left this card on my dressing table many years ago. I’d been through a painful break-up with my high school sweetheart. Dad didn’t say much, but one day he’d left me this card. He’d written, “We are at Interplayers, waiting for the play to start. We love you and are proud of you. We want you to be happy. God has good things for you. Love, Dad.”

He’s been gone 15 years and what I miss most about him is his thoughtfulness. Carefully, I returned my treasures to the storage box and finished cleaning. But I kept that card out and placed it on my dresser.

There weren’t any monsters under my bed – just memories.

Contact Cindy Hval at Her previous columns are available online columnists

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