“Spring is sprung, the grass is green and it’s time to get the blankets clean.” So went the popular ditty when I was a youth. Lots of things happened in the spring, such as a young man’s fancy turns to thoughts that the girls have been thinking of all winter.
Teaching young people was always a thrill, especially in the spring of the year. Love would blossom right before your eyes, and it gave one acknowledgment that the human race had not really changed. Trying to teach about the American Revolution was a lost cause when the love bug bit. Students couldn't care less about George Washington or the Battle of Bunker Hill but if you could find a historical incident of George Washington dancing with Martha maybe, just maybe, you could get their attention about history.
Does anyone still do spring cleaning? Many of you can remember mother really going all out with cleaning up the house after a long cold winter. Spring cleaning was a tradition and religiously followed by grandmothers and mothers. Most of the homes were heated by wood or coal stoves and with the house being shut up all winter that old coal dust and smoke would penetrate and get into everything.
In many houses all of the curtains came down, were washed by hand, and stretched to dry on a wooden frame known as a curtain dryer. Drapes were dry cleaned in white gasoline and hung up to dry. This operation was done outside as a safety precaution. We always had a can of white gas on the back porch that mother used to dry clean other apparel. Mother didn’t have the vacuum cleaners we have today, but she managed to get the house clean.
The other day we were at an antique shop, and one of the items for sale was a rug beater. People of our generation know what one looks like, but kids today wouldn’t have the slightest hint of what that goofy-looking apparatus was intended for. Many of you can recall pulling up the living room rug, taking it outside to hang on the clothesline and beating the dirt and dust out of it. The beating of rugs was great practice for baseball batting, but it was hard work. No matter how hard or how long you beat the rug, it never was enough for mother.
Mother always wore an apron and had her hair tied up with a dishtowel that hung down her back. When she got that garb on, we knew that spring house cleaning was for real. It was an all-day or two-day affair, and meals were pretty skimpy.
I recall that one spring we had several painters come into the house and after my parents had washed down the walls they painted the dining and living rooms. It took them several days to do the job, and I recall the smell of fresh paint and turpentine really smelled up the house. That paint job was great because it hadn’t been redone in all the years we lived there, which were something like 40 years. The paint in those days was nothing like our water base paint of today in drying time, odor and ease of cleaning brushes.
Robins arriving signaled the advent of spring and, even if they had to dodge snow, we knew it would not be long before the temperatures would be warmer. With their arrival, we would recall and do the traditional good luck ritual. Wipe your right thumb across the palm of your left hand and doubling up your right hand strike the left palm. Do this routine three times and it was supposed to bring you good luck.
In the early spring, mayflowers came out on the pastures west of our community, and we would go and pick a bouquet for mother. She was always so thrilled to get them and put them in a vase to set on the kitchen table. One of the best things about spring was that you could shed your overshoes, winter coat, mittens and cap with earflaps and feel 20 pounds lighter.
When it really warmed up, the storm windows were removed and replaced by screen windows. The screen and storm windows had to be washed as well as the windows on the house. In our home in Milford, the storm doors were removed and replaced by screen doors. It was really refreshing to leave the doors open and let the nice spring breezes refresh the house. I delivered the Sioux City Tribune in those days, and I collected on Saturday morning. Going into many homes to collect; some had a bad smell like dirty socks or cooked cabbage. Spring cleaning was in order.
Signs of spring at the Iowa Great Lakes are boats beginning to appear on the lakes and on trailers. Docks and hoists are being installed and the appearance of the white pelicans is a sure sign that summer is just around the corner.
Spring is a rebirth of life and a time for planting. Gardens are planted and seeds sprout and grow in spring. A sure sign of spring was seeing the farmers in their fields preparing the ground and planting the seeds. Watching mother and father robin build a nest is awe-inspiring. Each flight by one of the robins with bits of straw and paper will eventually form into a nest. Many times we have observed one of them sitting on the eggs and knowing full well that spring has arrived. The buds coming out on the trees, weeds growing and the grass needing mowing are all signs of spring. It is a great time to be alive and it renews our spirits to the wonders of nature.