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Quiet Desperation

Remembering a woman who made a clean slate of cleaning


Margaret Atwood — remember her? — said, “In the spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt.”

To be honest, I had never heard of Atwood, but I liked the quote. The quote led me to her. She is a novelist and a poet and an inventor.

I invented something that never got off the ground. I am still looking for an investor.

I invented a smoke alarm that doesn’t chirp you to death. It says, in a soothing voice, “My battery is low, Craig.”

(You could program it to say, “My battery is low, Otis,” if your name was Otis, or even if it wasn’t.)

Every time one of my smoke alarms fatigues and chirps, I spend 20 minutes or more trying to determine which one it is. In the meantime, the dog goes out of his mind.

I was looking for a good quote about spring, and that’s how I found Atwood. She’s Canadian. If she were an American, she’d be on a stamp someday. Her life has been impressive.

Of course, anyone can be on a stamp these days. You can have stamps made with anything you want on them, and they’re legal tender.

I don’t feel any differently about spring than I do about winter, unless we’ve had a good sock of winter. And we haven’t.

Spring will be welcome nevertheless, even though I don’t have any dirt.

I don’t plant anything, and I never have. Maybe it was too much apartment living when I was younger. Or maybe it is an ineptitude when it comes to home-growing flowers and vegetables.

There are a few things that change around here when spring arrives. Russell shows up, for one thing.

Russell will get the sprinkler system running and tell me a bad joke while he’s doing it.

The yard will be aerated and fed. And finally the mower will come out and make too much racket.

Spring cleaning? There will be none. Cleaning is year around, partly because of my mother, who at one time owned five vacuum cleaners. They weren’t all alike. Each one was designated for a different purpose and zone.

The upright couldn’t go where the handheld could go.

Our house was never a home. It was always too clean. I keep a clean house, but it is nothing like the houses I lived in when I was growing up. I felt like the Bubble Boy without the bubble.

Crumbs were the enemy.

The bad boy in me then, which holds true today, left crumbs for my mother to ferret.

It wasn’t entirely objectionable to her: It rewarded her, and gave her day a purpose.

She’s gone, and I wish I could ask her what she did all day, home alone, while dad was at work, and while Cindy and I were in school.

I think I know the answer: She cleaned things over and over, and cleaned things that didn’t need to be cleaned.

I know she didn’t watch television or drink or take snoozes. She cleaned.

Former Texas governor Ann Richards said she did not want her tombstone to read, “She kept a really clean house.”

My mother, however, good old Shirley, would have loved a legacy exactly like that.

Dirt at the end of the day, Margaret Atwood, was unthinkable.

Craig Marshall Smith is an artist, educator and Highlands Ranch resident. He can be reached at craigmarshallsmith@comcast.net.


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