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BROOMS MAKE FOR A CLEAN SWEEP

Power vacs, leaf blowers and Dust Busters all have a place in today's world, but nothing grounds you closer to Earth -- and the dirt on it -- than a broom.

We have several, and they all came out last weekend as the spring cleanup swung into action.

We have the no-nonsense push broom, great for clearing debris from the garage floor and driveway. We have the designated "indoors" broom. We have the whisk broom, which has been hanging in the garage for about 40 years. And, my personal favorite, we have the standard flat-style "corn" broom with its old-fashioned stitching, which comes in handy for sweeping steps and sidewalks.

I love the sound this flat broom makes. Swish, swish, swish, swish. Once I get started swinging, there is no stopping me.

Like many in her generation, my great aunt was a tireless sweeper. Daily she would sweep the floors of her house, sweep the porch, sweep the steps, sweep down the driveway. There was no stopping her, either.

In warm weather, she would swing open the doors and windows -- to "change the air" -- and sweep, sweep, sweep. If she woke up during the night and couldn't sleep, she would get up and do housework -- which always included sweeping. Even in her later years, when she lived with her daughter and family, she would sweep every floor surface in sight, including the outside deck.

"My mother loved to sweep," her daughter recalls.

I like to sweep, too, but not until I was looking through a book did I realize there is a method to, say, sweeping the kitchen floor. (I didn't say I was a "good" sweeper; I never really paid attention to how I sweep. I just sweep.)

Here goes: "Begin at the walls and aim to collect the dirt in the center of the room -- which means it will be swept the shortest distance," instructs Cheryl Mendelson in her book "Home Comforts: The Art & Science of Keeping House."

"Sweep the dirt toward you, brushing it with repeated, light strokes from all corners of the room, until you have a tidy little heap that can be brushed into a dustpan. Do not lift the broom up off the floor at the end of a stroke or you will fling dust and dirt into the air . . .," she continued.

Mendelson prefers nylon or synthetic bristles for interior floors; tough corn brooms for uneven exterior surfaces -- which makes sense.

I'm sure my great aunt knew all this, but she didn't learn it from a book.

And the broom has history -- from the creation by the Shakers of a flat broom, rather than the existing round one ("an emblem of Shaker ingenuity and creativity," reads one book) to the tradition of African-American couples "jumping the broom" at weddings, an African ritual that began during slavery.

A common interpretation is that the broom represents a new beginning of homemaking for a couple. Jumping over it symbolizes their union.

Then there's the image of the wicked witch and her flying broom ("I jump on my broom and sweep the sky when the children are in bed . . . goes the popular children's Halloween song).

And brooms also have their place in the arts. They make wonderful dance partners, and you will see them in productions of "Stomp" and elsewhere.

As for me, I have big, big plans for after work today. I'm going home and sweeping the front porch and sidewalk.

Stop me at the street.

e-mail: smartin@buffnews.com