Spring cleaning:

If you grew up in a house with a coal furnace, you remember what spring cleaning was like. In the cold months, soot from burning coal built up on the walls and ceilings, and if they were wallpapered (like my childhood home) the walls couldn’t be washed. Spring cleaning couldn’t begin until the coal furnaces didn’t have to be fired for a few months.

I remember seeing the first clean swaths as my mom and older sisters stood on stepladders and swiped the play-doh-like wallpaper cleaner (which later became play-doh) over the walls. I was too small to do this work, but I remember digging my hand into the can and pulling out a fistful and swiping it over a part of the wall I could reach. The cleaner turned black as it picked up the soot from the walls, but could be folded in on itself for a fresh, clean surface. When the cleaner was completely black, it was exchanged with a fresh fistful.

The contrast of dirty and clean on the walls was startling, and the work was satisfying because progress was so apparent. Still, it was hard work, especially if the rooms were large and had high ceilings. Fortunately for Mom, our heating system was later converted to gas, ending the sooty buildup.

I wrote a wallpaper cleaning scene in one book of the Mountain Women series. Does anyone remember which book it’s in?


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