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MARTHA SEZ: Floating fluff delivers memories of spring

May 25, 2017
By MARTHA ALLEN , Lake Placid News

This is my favorite time of year, May in the North Country, when the fruit trees and lilacs are in bloom and yellow dandelions and patches of bluets dot the green, green grass.

I always think of Federico Fellini's film, "Amarcord," when I see the fluffs floating through the air on a spring breeze. I can see them right now, out my window. Ah, the fluffs!

What are they? Airborne seeds from cottonwood or some other tree? Dandelion seeds on their little parachutes? In "Amarcord," the fluffs were greeted with excitement as heralds of spring.

While not greeted with any particular excitement that long-ago spring when I arrived in Keene Valley, I was dubbed a blow-in (there weren't so many of us then), and, like many a dandelion, or other invasive species, I have set down roots.

At apple blossom time, under the apple boughs, if you are very lucky, you might find morel mushrooms, the only kind of wild mushroom I feel confident enough to identify and eat. They are delicious.

This is also the time of spring cleaning.

Cleaning has never been an absolute favorite of mine. I wouldn't put it up there with discovering purple lilacs massed around the foundation of some long-gone farmhouse or wild strawberry blossoms in a mowed field or morels in a disused orchard. Still, in spring, even I notice that my urge to hibernate is replaced by a compulsion to sweep out the dust that is suddenly so shockingly visible in the unaccustomed sunlight streaming through the windows.

My mother used to remark, in apparent wonderment, that her mother-in-law, my Grandma Allen, was eager to abandon her studies at the University of Michigan in order to "set up housekeeping."

Not the heavy cleaning part. Grandma had had her share of all that as a girl. She told me how the women, wearing layers of petticoats, used to do the laundry, stirring clothes (which they had sewed themselves) in a boiling kettle with soap, rinsing them in tubs and hanging them out to dry. This process took all day.

As an adult, she lived with Grandpa, my father and his sister in a big house, and she had a housekeeper and a cook to help her. Grandma had a washing machine in her basement.

Cooking did not particularly interest her. Like most people who went through the Great Depression, she considered it a child's moral duty to eat everything that was set in front of it, but she felt no obligation to make the food appetizing. I think what Grandma liked was the administrative part of running a household. Under her rule, everything was orderly and clean.

Grandma hated washing dishes, my mother said, even though she owned one of the first dishwashing machines, so she had a carpenter build her a wooden screen, painted white, that she set in front of the sink until the day of the week when the cleaning lady came.

It has always been true, even today, that when friends or relatives arrive, the cleanliness of the house, or lack thereof, is considered to reflect upon the woman, rather than her husband or partner, even if both have jobs.

I used to just love Kurt Vonnegut, author of the novels "Slaughterhouse-Five" and "Cat's Cradle," among many other literary works.

Then one day, as a young married woman, I was reading a book of his short stories and it turned me against him for life, or at least so far.

I was thin, and so it bothered me that he described the pretty girls in his stories as having "breasts like melons, hips like a lyre." I could bring myself to forgive that preference, however, since that was the look I coveted for myself. Who could blame him, I figured.

I read all of his books, one after the other. My adoration was brought to a screeching halt by a short story he wrote about a dystopian society of the future in which really good vacuum cleaners and other labor-saving devices made the work of married women so easy that they lost all interest in their lives and just sort of fell apart. I mean, according to Vonnegut, what meaning could life possibly hold for a woman whose daily scrubbing drudgery had been usurped by robots?

Even if she did have breasts like melons and hips like a lyre.

I haven't forgiven him yet, but who knows, I might someday.

Have a good week.



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