If there was ever a saying that my mother DID NOT pay attention to, it was “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” She, along with the thousands of women in Duquesne, welcomed spring in a very remarkable way…. Spring Cleaning! Whether the house needed it or not, the universal Hunky project was to scrub, wash, air-out, vacuum and re-organize every square inch of their homes. This cleaning frenzy was perhaps an innate prehistoric instinct that began in the caves of Brno, Czechoslovakia. I can just imagine all of the Hunky cavewomen, in their leopard skin babushkas, sweeping out their caves and tossing out all of the old dinosaur bones from their winter meals.
My mom cleaned everything in sight. It all began with the washing down of ceilings and walls in every room. Of course, back in those days, the paint lasted forever. It was more than likely due to the high lead content that it lasted so long and was able to be scrubbed. In fairness to my mother, the walls actually did show a considerable amount of soil after the winter months. The combination of all of grit and smoke from the mills, the months and months of cooking robust winter meals, the behemoth furnace that took up half of our basement, and the smokers that visited our home, left its shadowy mark on our walls. I can still remember the scent of the Spic ‘n Span that she used.
When Mom attacked each room’s walls, she would first remove all of the drapes and curtains, along with any pictures adoring the walls. Furniture would be clustered into the middle of the room so that she and my dad would have free access to the walls. Usually, the wall cleaning took place on weekends, and they would tackle one or two rooms each day. While my dad was at work during the week Mom would continue the Spring Cleaning process by cleaning every little corner of each window, inside and out. She would then launder all of the drapes and curtains, hang them outside to absorb the freshest smell, expertly press each panel and then re-hang them on each of the windows.
Once all of that was done, she would turn her attention to the furniture and anything that was in the middle of the room cluster. Furniture would be polished; pictures would be wiped down before they were hung back onto the walls, and every lamp and lampshade cleaned. I remember that Mom had this soft wire brush that would use to clean the carpeting along the baseboards around the room. She would make sure that every inch of the carpeting was cleaned. When my dad got home from work, he’d help her to place the furniture back into their proper positions. She would finish the room, long after dark, but vacuuming every inch and replacing all of the chachkies around the room.
This cleaning process would go on for a couple of weeks, room by room, each place getting the “Mrs. Clean” treatment. Mom would always save the hardest room for last, the kitchen! Each cabinet would be empties and every single item would be washed. Of course, we didn’t have a dishwasher with the exception of my mother’s two untiring hands. The inside of each cabinet would be wiped down and the waxed shelf paper would be changed. I remember that Mom would have Dad take her and I to Schink’s to pick out the shelf paper she would use to reline the cabinets. I really didn’t have much input, but it was thrilling to be included in the decision. Of course, even boxes, jars and bottles of food and drinks would all be wiped off before each would be replaced into the cabinets. I don’t know how many boxes of Spic ‘n Span and bottles of Windex my mom would go through during Spring Cleaning. I am sure that the Hunkies ladies of Duquesne alone, helped to keep those companies in business for many, many years.
As I am writing this post, I’ve come to realize that many of the products that our parents used for cleaning are no longer available. For instance;
- Spic ‘n Span – It had the cleanest, freshest smell, however I don’t believe it’s available in its powdered form any longer. Who knows, maybe its name fell victim to the Political Incorrectness Police!
- Glass Wax – before Windex was around, she would use Glass Wax on the kitchen windows. She said it did a better job of getting the cooking residue off of the windows. The bigger loss in not having Glass Wax around is not being able to make those Christmas windows stencil decorations any longer
- Jubilee Kitchen Wax – we had those big white metal kitchen cabinets. Jubilee would clean them perfectly, plus, it smelled so good too. Can’t find it in the bottles any more
- Murphy’s Oil Soap – Can only be found in Saddle Shops, if you are lucky. When Mom used it, it cam in a jar and was this thick amber paste that she would glop into a bucket of hot water and use it to clean the woodwork and any hardwood floors.
I guess some of these products became victims of environmental regulation, or perhaps their maker realized that the product was so good, a bottle just lasted forever tucked away in sink cabinets.
The interior of our house wasn’t the only place that Spring Cleaning occurred. When the weather would be good enough, we all would join in on cleaning the exterior areas of the house. So much dirt and grit would accumulate on the front and back porches, Mom or Dad would use one of those stiff bristle shop brooms and buckets and buckets of Spic ‘n Span to scrub off the exterior walls and floors before hosing them down on a final rinse. Dad would then take down all of the storm windows he had installed in the Fall and would store them in the rafters of our garage. The large window screens would be hauled out from the rafters and my brother and I would be in charge of hosing them down and getting them ready for re-installation by my dad.
While my dad would be putting up the screens, my brother Steve and I would be relegated to the one job I hated most; washing down the outdoor furniture that had been stored in the garage since last fall. The actual washing part wasn’t so bad, it was the discovery of the random creatures that had decided to make the furniture storage area their home, as they “wintered” in our garage. I wasn’t, and I am still not, into spiders. They creep me out. When you disturb their winter’s nap, teardown their home and then confront them with a bucket of hot Spic ‘n Span, well, they’re not happy campers. In my wild and imaginative mind, I was convinced that they were in an attack mode and would soon sink their fangs into my neck.
After the furniture had been thoroughly scrubbed off, Mom and Dad decided if the various items would make it through another summer or if they needed a coat of paint to freshen them up. Usually, Mom won out, and my father would be assigned the additional task of repainting the furniture. Thank goodness for Rustolium! Dad was a firm believe in the product, and it saved having to scrap off layers of rust that had formed during the furniture’s Winter hiatus! If you were to have scraped off the layers of paint of the steel outdoor furniture that we had, you would have found a virtual rainbow of colors that it had been at one time or another. The care that Dad gave the chairs obviously worked! The furniture STILL is being used at my daughter’s home after 60+ years of repainting.
As you might be able to tell, my parents had no problem with having my brother and I do chores around the house. I think they believed it was one of those “character building” exercises that I’ve heard about. The Spring Cleaning ritual was just one of the many in which we participated in our quest for character I suppose. Another part of the Spring clean up was yet another that I dreaded, cleaning out any debris that may have gotten stuck at the base of the hedges that surrounded the front of our house. Although it sounds like a fairly innocuous job, the fact that the bushes were the infamous “jagger bushes” had it a difficult job. Those of you who are unfamiliar with the term “jagger bushes” obviously do not speak Pittsburghese. Jagger bushes are these tiny leafed bushes that were prevalent in almost every Hunky yard throughout the Duquesne area. The thorns that were on the branches, were often larger than the leaves themselves! Our tiny arms were able to reach in and pull out any debris without getting scratched. Extracting the assorted papers and such was never the problem. However, those creatures that were unable to make it to our garage for the winter, managed to make a temporary home in these bushes. I knew they were out to get me! Now THAT was the problem.
After the Spring Cleaning ritual, it seemed everyone’s outlook was brighter. Every home was ready to welcome those perfect days just prior to the onset of Summer when temperatures were mild, breezes would waft through open windows and nights still had just enough chill in them to create the perfect sleeping environment. As kids we’d listen, once again, to the lullaby from the mills and drift off to sleep thinking about the end of school and a summer of fun that lay ahead.