Floor cleaning season

It’s the time of year when keeping your floors clean is about like using a kitchen colander to stem the flow of Niagara Falls. This is especially true if you have pets or children or pets that you consider to be your children.

The combination of melting snow and bare earth creates that fascinating substance known as mud. Kids and pets are drawn to mud like iron to a humungous electromagnet that’s powerful enough to pull the rivets out of the Eiffel Tower.

Mud magnetism is by no means limited to kids and pets. My wife and I live on a gravel road. No matter how often we wash our car, it insists on wearing a thick coat of grime.

On the one hand, there isn’t much point in washing the car if it’s just going to get dirty again on our drive home. On the other hand, the carwash removes about 30 pounds of gunk. This decrease in weight probably increases our fuel efficiency. A small fortune could be had by reclaiming all the gravel that’s removed each week at our local carwash.

At this time of year, we can have warm, sunny days that might cause us to imagine that we live in the balmy subtropics. But then an icy gale will sweep down from the north, shattering our fantasies like a rose that has been dunked in liquid nitrogen.

The upside of such a dramatic climatic swing is that the mud becomes frozen. The downside is that the mud becomes frozen. This is especially problematic if the gravel road that runs past your home has ruts that closely resemble utility trenches.

Mud was a coveted playground material when I was a grade schooler. Kids — especially boys — were drawn inexorably to mudpuddles, as if crooning enchantresses were luring them into the shoe-snatching mire. A crop of carrots could have been raised in the mud that we tracked into the school. Our school’s janitor developed a severe facial tic whenever we tromped into the building after a muddy recess.

An overnight Arctic blast would freeze the mud, preserving our tracks like so many fossilized dinosaur footprints. A paleontologist would probably have concluded that the creatures who left the tracks were small, hyperactive bipeds.

During recess the boys played a game called kickball, a combination of soccer and “kill the carrier” except with fewer rules.

Who am I kidding? There were no rules.

A mob of shouting, wild-eyed boys were chasing the ball one recess when the playground had become a permafrost landscape of rugged ruts and treacherous tracks. The ball suddenly appeared before me. This was my chance! I would kick that ball so epically that it would be chronicled in my hometown newspaper six decades later!

I was sprinting like a jackrabbit and lining up my kick when stars burst before my eyes. Looking around, I discovered that I was lying on the ground and that the side of my head had struck an especially jagged chunk of frozen mud. In keeping with the “no rules” rule of kickball, another boy had tripped me in the midst of my windup.

Mud suddenly lost much of its appeal. So did kickball.

With a brood of eight kids, Mom must have pulled out her hair during mud season. Our farmhouse saw a parade of urchins tramping in and out with little regard as to the cleanliness (or more accurately, the lack thereof) of their footwear. Keeping the house’s floors clean must have felt like trying to empty the ocean with a teacup.

One day, a mysterious new doodad appeared at our house. It had an electric cord and a long handle that was attached to a football-shaped dome. I investigated and discovered that the contraption, whatever was, was heavy. The underside of its metallic football sported a pair of circular brushes.

I asked one of my older sisters about the purpose of the gizmo.

“I don’t know,” she replied. “I think it’s for cleaning.”

“Wow. Mom must be really serious about that cleanliness stuff.”

“I guess. Hey, shouldn’t you have taken off your barn boots before coming into the house?”


A loud commotion erupted from the bathroom later that day. The whir of an electric motor was intermingled with whimpers of pain.

Another of my older sisters opened the bathroom door. “You doofus!” she exclaimed. “That’s a floor scrubber! You’re not supposed to use it on your face! Were you dropped on your head?”

“How did you know?” I replied.

On one hand, my face was so clean that it wouldn’t see its first zit for several years. On the other hand, I was just seven years old.

— Jerry’s book, Dear County Agent Guy, is available at http://Workman.com and in bookstores nationwide.


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