When I was very young we lived in a small, Cape Cod-style house at the end of a long dirt driveway. I remember acres of overgrown fields and the massive weathered barn. Twice a year, we prepared the little house for the changing season. My father would designate an entire Saturday to cleaning and changing the windows. Thermal pane glass was not yet ubiquitous; heavy-framed screens were installed when the air warmed in the Spring, only to be replaced with storm windows in the Fall . The removal of the dark mesh screens allowed the sun to stream though the glass. If all had gone well and the second layer of windows was clean, each became a crisp portal to the changing leaves.
Sometimes it was an adult party with a neighbors pitching in for the chore. First, the unwieldy wooden framed windows were hauled down from the second floor of the barn. Children were pressed into action to remove the grime, washing them with hoses and old newspapers. Twelve months had erased the knowledge that kids with hoses are lousy window washers. Games spontaneously broke out and eventually, the moms would take over the task.
The upstairs of the barn was a wondrously dangerous world. The floor was rotted in spots; holes illuminated the long drop to concrete twelve feet below. We were never allowed there for obvious safety reasons, which only made it more desirable. It smelled of old hay and dead mice. Cobwebs curtained the windows and corners. Pulleys, ropes, lumber, assorted buckets and tools littered the stronger parts of the floor.
Each twelve-pane panel was then hoisted up a ladder to hang on the hardware which held it in place against the house. There was a lot of precarious balancing and colorful language involved. There were double-hung, permanent windows as well. The inside glass was easy to clean, the side that faced the elements required either contortionists to hang out over the window ledge or the help of the person on the ladder prior to installing the storm windows. I don’t remember exactly how many windows the house had; enough to make this job monumental.
Eventually we moved to a “modern” house with thermal pane glass and light, aluminum screens. I’m sure my parents were relieved to give up the annual window challenge. But it seems a right of Autumn disappeared over time with burning leaf piles and trips to the mysterious, dark, upstairs of the barn.
As much as I complain about this huge house I ramble about in, there are rituals to home ownership I adore. Armed with window cleaner and newspapers I worked my way from room to room, removing the screens and washing the windows before locking them down against the coming chill. Being a rather mindless task, my thoughts wander, remembering cleaning windows in that little home of my childhood. Letting in more light is always a good thing…