Summer Cleaning

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Pile of Photos
10 Sep 2008

imageSpring cleaning and summer cleaning are completely different animals. Spring cleaning throws open windows to let in sunlight and fresh air still tinged with winter. Spring cleaning looks forward. There’s that mad scramble to get the matzot in and the last of the chametz out before Pesach. Spring cleaning is frenzied, carried upon the crest of pent-up energy and the excitement of gathering family around the Seder table.

Come the tail end of summer only the wasps are frenzied — still building their darn grey paper condos in the space between our storm windows. It’s too hot to climb tiptoe to reach that last speck of dust. Summer cleaning means retreating to the cool of the basement. It’s sitting on the floor, sifting through boxes and inhaling the mustiness and memory of old letters, baby clothes, and cards signed with paint-smeared handprints no bigger than a plum.

Summer cleaning looks back wistfully and sometimes with relief. The little terry onesies are sweet but with those onesies came two o’clock feeding, teething and colic. I realize digging through the boxes in the basement how similar this is to the High Holidays’ excavation of the soul. What will be kept? What finally released? Some patterns are so hard to let go of, even if we no longer have use for them.

Must my husband save a two-foot high stack of Sports Illustrateds? Surely the players have all been traded or sentenced for drug possession or sidelined with hamstring injuries. Do I really need to hold on to my grandparents’ hardsided grey valise? It reeks of cigarette.

My mother and grandmother saved every letter I ever wrote to them and so I spend time with past selves, reliving my junior year abroad, first job jitters, homesickness at sleepaway camp. I open a sealed envelope and see the heavily scrolled border of the page within. A forgotten bearer bond! But no. The document is merely an appraisal for my mother’s Persian lamb coat, the coat that used to hang in the hall guest closet. My favorite hiding place because I could always count on finding a few quarters in the coat pockets.

Spring cleaning decisions are a cinch — toss, toss, toss. Who names a dust bunny or cries to keep it? Old crackers? Out! Macaroni and cereal? Out and out! But summer decisions are hard. They aren’t about tossing out but letting go. Will this finally be the year I master my impatient tendencies? The ones that mire me in swift and faulty judgments?

My husband insists he will get to these magazines. Who am I to deprive him of the pleasure of reading? I save my grandmother’s suitcase because every time I slide those metal latches and lift the lid I inhale the shadow of smoke exhaled by her very breath. I am five-six-seven-eight and with her once again. Spring cleaning heralds the start of a new year. Summer cleaning tells us time, so much time, has passed.

And so I sit and cull. Remember and toss. Save and savor. The garbage bags grow bigger. The boxes in which I save grow smaller. And then I come across two blue plastic spoons molded into the shape of airplanes. We bought them years ago in hopes of feeding grandchildren one day. I make a note so I do not forget where I put them. In a box. Tucked away for the future. For charoses perhaps or maybe even apples and honey.

© Debra Darvick 2008. Debra Darvick’s most recent work is This Jewish Life: Stories of Discovery, Connection and Joy. The book may be ordered on or by calling the publisher at 800.880.8642. To read personal reflections, musing on the writing life, excerpts from her novel and book reviews, check out Debra’s new blog at

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.