by Janet Gilmore

If this ad from the 1950s was typical, housewives were a lot more stylish and more thin when they engaged in the Big Cleaneroo then than women are today.

Falling snow energizes me. To the point that I cleaned last week, at least one room anyway before I lay down with my newest discovery, listening to a book-on-tape while reading that same book. As long as I was going to clean, I decided I would not just clean, but clean — the Big Cleaneroo.  Clean enough to last at least until spring, 2012. I got out the vacuum cleaner, of course, but also — and this is unprecedented — all eight attachments, spray cleaners, sponges, rubber gloves and a dust rag.

I also recruited an assistant. “I guess we should start in the living room,” sighed husband, Hugh.

I started by dusting off the cleaning products. Then I tried the high shelves, but I couldn’t reach the top even with a mop. Hugh said, “Now, Jan, what are you supposed to do when you can’t reach the top shelf? You ask the Big Strong man; right?”

“Could you…?” I asked.

Hugh ran an exploratory finger across the shelf and said, “It’s fine. It doesn’t need dusting. I’ll be in the basement if you need me.”

I made the necessary mental adjustments to that and grabbed the vacuum cleaner. You know, when I vacuum, I start thinking about all the tiny particles in the rug that think my efforts are a big joke. Then I stand in one place staring into space, going over and over the same spot until the universe tells me to move on.

The first corner I came to had a stack of unread newspapers. I vacuumed them with the dusting brush and restacked them so that the entire pile wasn’t resting on two small paperback books. Then I shoved a chair in front of them so they don’t show any more, and I dusted the chair. I found a few dead stinkbugs on the floor and sucked them up thinking, “Not so stinky now; are you, guys?” The Big Cleaneroo meant removing the baseboard heat covers and vacuuming all the metal fins inside. All kinds of things lived in there — old dry erasers, more ex-stink bugs, small pieces of dry paper, old appointment cards, pebbles and pills. What was not there was the map to the treasure that I know the former owners buried in the back yard. I’ve been looking for that map for 20 years now. I washed the radiator covers and replaced them tidily.

At the halfway mark, the window sills were shining, half of the carpet was clean enough to eat off of and the furniture was dust-free. Just then Hugh came in from shoveling the driveway.  He stood in the doorway.

“You can’t come in here,” I said.

“Why not?”

“Because I just cleaned this half of the room, and you’ll have to walk on this half to get to the other half of the room. That is not acceptable.”

“What should I do?” he asked.

“Can you levitate yourself?”

I guess he can, because when I looked around he was gone.

I found two dead laptop computers under a big chair. I summoned their owners from the opposite ends of the house for interrogation.

“Nothing comes up on my screen ever,” said one.

“I can’t get onto the Internet on mine,” said the other.

“Throw them away?” I asked.

“OK,” said one.

“No; I’m going to call Tim,” said the other. “Put mine back.”

Arms aching, I reached the corner of the room that no one ever uses.  I pulled out the chest that sits there holding up a lamp and vacuumed behind it. There were also two drip marks about halfway up on the wall. How did they get there? No one drinks anything in that corner; no one does anything there. It’s a lonely corner. The drips might have been a clue to the whereabouts of that treasure map, but I doubted it, so I washed them away.

Next, the Cleaneroo required pulling a heavy piece of furniture away from the wall. On the one hand, the Big Strong man was nearby; on the other hand, I didn’t want him walking on my floor. I told myself to grow up. I could do the floor again, but I couldn’t move that piece of furniture without help. My back hurt.

He moved it for me. Unfortunately, I then lay down on the floor and couldn’t get up again. I was exhausted, and it felt so good to be doing nothing. “Thanks,” I mumbled, admiring the legs of the dining room table as my eyes closed.

When I got up, I cleaned behind the last cabinet for the first time in 20 years and put the cleaning equipment away. Done. Not perfect, but good enough for Chestnut Hill, as they say. If you’re planning to visit me, hurry. The Big Cleaneroo is like a total eclipse; it only happens once on the third blue moon after the solstice following a 95-percent-off sale of cosmetics at the mall.

That evening I relaxed after dinner with my book-on-tape and then slept the earned sleep of the spic and span. I had helped my family by cleaning our home, although I didn’t want to clean again for a long time. The following morning I discovered the telltale evidence that a mouse had moved into the kitchen.