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Spring Cleaning

Sarah sat on the spare bed with her cup of yogurt and spoon. She grimaced at the storage unit her spare bedroom had become as she ate. The rest of the house isn’t much better, she thought. Next week, her mother and aunt would be coming for an extended visit and they needed this room.

How had she let it get so bad?

As a young newly-wed, she had been the perfect wife. She cleaned every weekend. She cooked every night. Then afterward, her husband Tom would dry the dishes while she washed. They could talk about anything during those thirty minutes; work, friends, their relationship, the children they might have. The children we did have.

Well, reminiscing about the past isn’t getting the house cleaned in the present, she thought as she threw away her empty yogurt. Here goes. Sarah spent the morning pulling everything out of the spare bedroom. Twenty-two boxes and three trash bags of stuff, she lugged it all into the living room. The desk she had to drag. She even got carried away and took out the twin bed.

She stared at the three bookshelves debating. A few of the books were standing upright, but most had fallen victim to her two teenagers. They threw them back in piles on their sides, or on top of the others, or not even on the shelf at all. She knew she carried out several with the boxes and some more were sitting on the floor. With a sigh, she dug some empty boxes out of the basement and carried the books out too.

With everything else out, she finally noticed the walls. Fifteen inspirational wall hangings, a clock, and three paintings that she had never liked. Everything except the clock had been a gift from a co-worker or an in-law. She could remember hanging them out of guilt.

Never look a gift horse in the mouth, her dad used to say. So, she always said, “Thank you,” and hung them up in here because she didn’t want them in the rest of the house. Shaking her head, she pulled every last one of them down.

Eleven o’clock and the room was completely empty. Bare white walls stared at her and she could see the carpet again. Now, she attacked. She swept the cobwebs from the ceiling and took a wash rag to the walls. The amount of dirt it picked up vacuuming frightened her, so she did it twice.

A bead of sweat rolled down her temple and she decided to break for lunch. Gingerly, she picked her way between the stuff to reach the kitchen. She made a quick sandwich, afraid she’d lose this motivation if she took the time for anything more. As she ate, her eyes wouldn’t leave the pile of stuff in the living room. And I thought I had a mess before, she thought. Where am I going to put all this stuff, if not back in there?

Within twenty minutes, Sarah was back at work. She dusted the bed frame and put it back first. Next, came the mattress without the sheets and blanket that had been on it for the last five years. Those she threw in the washer and put on a clean set. Then, came the desk, freshly Pledged and smelling of pine. Finally the book shelves, followed by the books–put back right. She had thoughts about alphabetizing them, but that could wait for another day.

She stepped into the living room and all that faced her now was twenty-two boxes and three trash bags of unidentified “stuff” and eighteen wall hangings. She could cram it all into the closet, but then her mom and aunt wouldn’t have anywhere to put their clothes. Rubbing her shoulder, she sat down on the floor and pulled over a trash bag.

What’s in here? she thought, opening the bags. All three were stuffed to the brim with fabric. The quilt she had never made. Her grandmother Sophia had inspired her to make a quilt. Sophia had even given her a hand-stitched one as a wedding present. That was the last quilt she made before she died of a stroke. What ever happened to that? Sarah wondered.

She held up a swath of beautiful purple fabric, smelling of must. Her fingers running over the smooth cotton, she knew she couldn’t just throw this away. Maybe this will be a fun project for us girls to work on while they’re here, she thought. She set the bags by the washer hoping to get rid of the musty smell.

Next! she thought, tearing open the first box. A burst of color met her eye and she pulled out a handful of clothes. She held up one white blouse with pink swirls and knew. These were the clothes she couldn’t fit into anymore. She had boxed them up during her last pregnancy to make room for her preggo clothes. Good grief. That was fourteen years ago. Why do I still have these? She shoved the whole box to the side, deciding to have a yard sale later.

She opened up every box after that and found another seven that held clothes. Some were hers, some the boys’, and some Tom’s, but none of them fit and they all went on the yard sale pile.

Okay, that was a good chunk out of the way. Skimming over the boxes, she saw four that held nothing but VHS tapes. We don’t even have a VCR! Theirs had broken years ago. Into the yard sale those went too.

Tripping on a painting as she stepped over a box, she barely caught her balance and almost rolled her ankle. She rubbed the aching, red streak on her bare foot. “Okay, that’s it!” she ranted aloud, yanking the painting off the floor. She stared at the kitschy lighthouse and couldn’t even remember who gave it to her. I never liked it anyway, she thought as she added it to the yard sale with only the smallest twinge of guilt.

Then she looked at all the other wall hangings and knew the same was true of them. So she set those to the side too. Her hands on her hips, she looked at her growing yard sale pile with pride. I might make a decent amount off this.

But the six boxes killed her pride. They held everything she had planned to put in a yard sale three years ago. She remembered all her good intentions, but something always came up or the weather was bad or she was too tired. Slipping on her shoes, she carried the “yard sale” stuff out to her suburban, having already decided to take it all to Goodwill instead. Just get it out of the house, she thought. I don’t even care about the money anymore.

When she walked back in from the last box, she couldn’t believe her eyes. Hardly anything was left. Just a few more boxes, she was almost there.

She pulled over a squashed box and opened it. A tear slid down her cheek when she saw her ruined wedding flowers. Beside them was her maid of honor bouquet from her best friends wedding. Both were crushed beyond repair and slightly discolored. Beneath the flowers were her garter, now yellow from time. The ring bearer’s pillow, which her mother-in-law had embroidered by hand and was remarkably unscathed in it’s plastic bag. And the cake topper also survived well. She even found her wedding album. She flipped through the first few pages. I looked so young then. And we were so happy. We still are, she thought, smiling contentedly.

She pulled out the few unbroken things and threw the rest away.

The last two boxes held blankets, which she pulled out and washed, planning to put them on the closet shelf afterward.

Haha! she thought. Finished! Conquered! The room is ours again. She looked at the emptiness of it and couldn’t believe her eyes. All that stuff, she thought. She took a deep breath and went back to the living room. Ten minutes, then I’ll run that stuff to Goodwill.

Only after she flopped onto the couch did she see it. Another box, half hidden behind the recliner.

She groaned. I’ll do it tomorrow.

No, I won’t. She sighed and forced herself to get up. I should just throw it in the car. That’s where it’s going anyway.

But, she had to see.

She gasped.

The quilt from her grandmother. Hand-stitched during her last months. As Sarah stared at the rich reds and deep greens and lovely blues, she remembered all the summers spent at grandma’s. Learning to crochet and make strawberry jam. The difference between basil and thyme. Making the richest chocolate brownies Sarah had ever tasted. Being forced to watch the six o’clock news because, “You need to know what’s goin’ on in the world, girl.”

Sarah pulled the quilt from the box and shook out the wrinkles. Why had she ever shut this away? To protect it, she thought. I didn’t want it to get ruined. And I still don’t. But she couldn’t bear putting it back in that box.

Hugging the quilt to her chest, she looked at the empty bedroom. Then she had an idea.

She threw the quilt over the back of the couch and dashed out the door, barely taking the time to slip on her shoes. Stopping at Goodwill to unload her Suburban, she smiled sheepishly at the man who came out to help her. Her stuff gone, she headed for the craft store.

A week later, her mom and aunt arrived. Sarah helped them carry their bags into the spare room and heard then gasp.

“Goodness, Sarah,” her mom said, pointing at the quilt hanging on the wall. “Is that one of your grandmother’s?”

Sarah nodded. “It’s the one she gave me for my wedding.”

“That is so beautiful,” her aunt said. “I never thought to hang a quilt up like that.”

“And I thought,” Sarah said, pointing to the stack of fabric in the corner, “that we might try to make one together.”

They looked uncertain, so she added. “It’ll be fun. Just us girls.”

Her mother smiled and sighed. Then wrapped an arm around Sarah. “Yes, it will be fun.”

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