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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
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:
"The years rolled by, good and bad. There were many
hired men to cook for, some with bed bugs. The road was surveyed, and Mr.
Duggan set up camp in our willows, complete with mules and bunkhouses and scrapers
to grade the road for pavement, which was poured around 1926."
What a godsend paved roads must have been! (Less dust to
beat from carpets during spring cleaning, too!)
By April, our taste buds are deprived of seasonal flavors.
The apple barrel is empty, and the onions and potatoes are dwindling. Lettuce
and radishes and onion sets nestle in cold frames on a sunny side of a farm
shed. The asparagus isn't quite ready, and rhubarb is weeks away.
Finally, April seems the cruelest month because it seldom
lives up to our expectations for new beginnings and fresh starts. But the joy
is in the journey.
Winter was mild in many parts of the U.S., and February
rains ushered in an early mud season. Farmer's Almanac predicts mud season will
end by April 1.
Then again, maybe not. April fool!