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Only memories remain in my clean basement

Spring is finally here at least according to the calendar -- and along with it comes the nagging reminder that we need to "clean house." Literally.

Spring cleaning was a real family ritual when I was growing up. White ruffled curtains were washed, along with the windows they graced. Rugs were roundly beaten with brooms on backyard clotheslines. Walls were freshly painted. If "cleanliness is next to Godliness," we were very close to God in those days!

Three years ago, I caught "spring cleaning fever" and decided to start from the bottom up. So I went down to the basement to do battle with the junk. I lost.

I lost to 40 empty cardboard boxes, carefully saved to mail perhaps two future Christmas presents. They'd be useful someday for unknown treasures, I thought.

I lost to four paint-spattered folding chairs, a 30-year-old card table that wobbled and a rusty cart on wheels. They were all rescued by my husband, who had never noticed them before but threatened to guard them with his life.

I lost to old photographs, school notebooks and children's paintings bound for trash, but reinstated by last-minute pangs of nostalgia.

I lost to cartons of books designated to the basement dungeon but too precious to give away -- no safe haven immediately available.

The cat lost her way to her litter box in all the confusion and hyperventilated at the top of the stairs until I cleared a path.

At the end of that first basement attack, most everything had simply been rearranged into different locations, partially blocking the fuse box and my path to the laundry appliances. The spiders were looking for new homes, and the basement junk just girded its loins, waiting for round two.

It happened a year later, when I hired two stalwart men to unceremoniously take what I couldn't release before.

Out went boxes of indistinguishable contents, ancient braided rugs and an old sump pump. Too heavy to move the first time. Genuine trash. Gone.

But also went wooden children's toys, slightly tainted with mold. I had optimistically saved them for future grandchildren, but they were outdated for modern toddlers who lived too far away and are now grown.

Out went a trunk of old clothes, including bloomers my aunt once sported in gym class in the 1920s and the faded smock my mother wore when pregnant with me.

Out went the octagonal table, topped with green felt. It had leaned against a wall for years. Four good friends played pinochle around that table, smoked cigars, shared stories and laughed.

Out went the ancient baby crib. My husband and three brothers once slept in that bed. And three babies of our own carried on the tradition. But the springs were rusty, bolts were missing and the paint was chipped. No cherubic grandchild would ever sleep there.

So this time, the basement junk lost. I was the winner. But I am a poor winner, not because I'm lording it over the junk, but because I mourn it. It was once a part of my life, once loved, now carried off without ceremony. Not even a funeral to mark the loss. Ghosts now live in memory in this clean basement, memory itself as mortal and fragile as we ourselves.

I may be "closer to God" with this cleanliness, but time is cruel when treasures become trash.


Cathy Tallady, who lives in Lewiston, was sorry to see some of her treasures become trash.

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