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  Ellen Davignon: Lives of Quiet Desperation

Spring Cleaning That Sucker

March 15, 2002

I woke up the other night with a feeling of anxiety, of foreboding, of impending disaster, and circumstances gone very badly awry.

I looked at the clock, its rosy digital face faithfully ticking away the microseconds of my life…

4:30. Well, good then, I hadn't slept in. I sniffed the air in the bedroom, cool and fresh from the open window, and decided there was nothing there to have disturbed my slumber in such a threatening way. A check of various portions of my anatomy revealed a migraine neither pending nor blossoming, no stuffiness indicative of some unwelcome bug taking up residence, no incipient charlie horses, no appendages prickling with restored blood flow. In fact, except for a rather suffocating sense of doom and a slight inclination to visit the loo, I felt pretty damn fine.

What was it? I asked myself. What had I been dreaming about? I rummaged around in the dim recesses of my subconscious, feeling the gummy tentacles of a dream slither and slide around in an attempt to evade my focus. I had been back at Johnson's Crossing, that much was clear. And it was winter… no, not winter; there was no snow in the parking lot. But there was mud and slop on the rug by the back door and cobwebs in the corners and a buildup of debris at the back of the big gas range. So not winter, but spring, and with spring… Oh my LORD, no bleedin' wonder I had awakened stressed to the nines, I had been dreaming about the Old Barn, as we had not-always lovingly called our old JC Lodge, and it had been winter's end and I had been about to begin spring cleaning that old sucker!

It's been ten years almost to the day since we sold the old place, time and enough to have forgotten the eighteen hour days, the pans of burnt meat pies, the oven that died just as we segued into the Labour Day weekend, the wonky hot water heater…well, you get the picture. And one would think that we would remember our tenure as a good time, well spent. But one, as usual, would be wrong. Because, much as we loved JC and the Old Barn, it's not the singalongs and the happy Christmases and the weddings and babies born there, that come back to fill the dark hours when sleep is supposed to be knitting up our raveled sleeves of care, it's all those other things.

Let me just refresh your memories of the Old Barn.

It was a very large, very unlovely two-story frame building, built from lumber reclaimed from the Doubleya-doublya Two army camp that had occupied the west bank of the Teslin river when we arrived at Johnson's Crossing in l947. The main floor, thirty feet wide and sixty long, had a long narrow kitchen, a long narrow dining room and a large, spacious lobby. The second floor was divided into eleven bedrooms and a linen room. At the south end of the lodge, a bedroom-cum-storeroom measuring twenty by twenty had been added on. At the north end, another attachment was built, this one providing space for a laundry room, a storeroom, and a tiny beer parlour-turned-office/parlour/playroom. There were five bathrooms; thirty-five windows, about five thousand square feet of walls that required washing, and acres of floor, most of them covered with dark red battleship linoleum.

And before we opened for business on the first day of May, all the storm windows had to be removed and the grime of winter removed from the more than one hundred little panes of glass; every square inch of walls and floors and ceilings would be scrubbed and buffed and/or painted; the first of seven tons of flour, packed in and piled in the old beer parlour; hundreds of souvenirs, received and priced; the store shelves painted and restocked; and the old, badly-designed Comstock-Castle kitchen range taken apart and cleaned in a cauldron full of lye water, heated by a huge blowtorch, its accumulation of grease and carbon loosening the boiling and then scrubbed off with a wire brush. The latter was a procedure that we called, "boiling the stove," and the expression was a JC-ism, synonymous with serious seasonal bouts of sanitation.

The big rug in the living area had to be taken out and turned upside down on the lawn, it's bottom spanked, it's pile brushed with the last bit of snow that lay unmelted in the shadow of the lodge. All the heavy bedding was washed and replaced with lighter summer coverings; the curtains, freshly starched and ironed, the windowsills painted; and the huge collection of African violets that flourished on the east side of the building, repotted.

Small wonder I awoke feeling anxious, eh?

When we closed in mid-October, it was always with a sense of tremendous relief to be done with the godawful 3:00 AM risings, tempered by a dread that it would be only a few short months before we had to get ready to start getting ready to do it all over again. I'd look in the mirror at my baggy eyes, and at the dark circles that reached almost to my belly button, and I'd think,
"Well, that was my last summer, it will take a bloody miracle to go through it all again."

And all through the short winter days, I kept thinking, "Oh golly it's the end of January, it's the end February, no time at all till May…" And then, without warning, the miracle would occur.

About the middle of March, I'd be out for a walk and a big old motor home would trundle by, some Alaskan racing home, Northwestward Ho! And like a computer freshly booted and rarin' to go, I'd feel that little tingle abaft my breastbone and I'd hurry home, full of pee and vinegar, and eager to begin the enormous task of digging out after a long, long winter.

After all these years, however, I no longer have a love-hate relationship with summer, and winter slips by nearly without remark. I have nothing to dread. But neither do I have any real reason for that little tingle and I want you to know, I miss it…even the spring cleaning.

Back in my Heron Drive bedroom, I stretched luxuriously and slid out of bed, a visit to the bathroom taking on a somewhat more demanding importance. Five minutes later, I slid right back between the warm covers and snuggled down. Phil rolled over. "Whatime'zit?" he husked.

"It's nearly time to start boiling the stove," I told him, grinning with the sheerly mean pleasure of knowing that I was sowing the seeds of another's nightmare. "Go back to sleep, I'll call you when I'm ready."

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