April is the cruelest month
Is April the cruelest month? American poet T.S. Eliot thought so. If you were a high school student the last time you read his words, spring fever may have distracted you from the source of the Missouri-born poet's angst.
The more Aprils I've seen come and go, the more appreciation I've gained for his view. How many times have you felt stirrings of spring, only to be yanked back into the throes of winter? Poet Robert Frost also underscored April's fickle ways:
The sun was warm but the wind was chill.
You know how it is with an April day
When the sun is out and the wind is still,
You're one month on in the middle of May.
But if you so much as dare to speak,
A cloud comes over the sunlit arch,
A wind comes off a frozen peak,
And you're two months back in the middle of March.
But weather isn't the only reason why. April is the cruelest month. It's that other word too often paired with spring.
You guessed it, spring cleaning. Do you suffer from a filmy residue of guilt each April unless you do deep-down cleaning?
A century ago, diseases like tuberculosis were real threats. Add soot from indoor gas lights or coal-burning stoves and you can imagine the grime. Women hauled large rugs out to clotheslines and attacked the dust with rug beaters.
Decades ago, women still sought spring-cleaning advice and inspiration. Here's an item submitted by a Kane County, Illinois, club in April 1941 to Our Successful Club News:
"You've a brisk campaign against winter's dirt and grime ahead of you. So here we've mustered up fresh recruits, pledged to see you through with a minimum of energy spent, a maximum of pleasure earned. Like a wise general, marshal your forces beforehand and plan each day's schedule to get the most done with the least effort. Make a list of things you need and have them at hand before you start. Wear shoes and frocks that are comfortable. Follow the army rule of 10 minutes of rest every hour on the march. Break the morning with milk or fruit juice, the afternoon with a cup of tea or coffee. Take it easy and stop at 4 p.m."
Today, women find encouragement in Gail Blanke's book, Throw out Fifty Things -- Clear the Clutter, Find Your Life.
Adding to the cruelty, April marks the advent of mud season. It's not surprising, then, that Frost's poem on the previous page is titled Two Tramps in Mudtime.
In the early 1900s, dirt roads were impassable for weeks. There were no rural mail deliveries or trips to town until it dried up. Here's a reference to the end of that era from my grandparents' life story: