Seasonal debris comes in four varieties: beach sand, autumn leaves, Christmas tree needles and plastic Easter grass. Regardless of solstice or equinox, some of each season can be found in the living room or the station wagon at all times.
My family is neither more nor less defiant about hygiene than any other group of stable mates comprised of three daughters, a son, a father, and an under-powered vacuum cleaner. We don't sweep things under the rug, although we have avoided looking behind the couch for roughly a year now. We have the will to be tidy. We just seem to lack the power. And for that, I shoulder the blame.
It started about the same time we last moved the couch. I owned a very good but very old vacuum cleaner. One day, it quit. At the flick of a switch, it made a sound like a cat falling down a well, and never spoke again.
Word came my way of a machine that inhaled nails for $39.95, and I wouldn't even have to wait for it to be delivered. The salesman behind the bus station said it was the buy of a lifetime.
When I got it home, the cord turned out to be about six feet long, and the machine suffered from respiratory distress. It had a hard time lifting tissue paper from the kitchen floor. Naturally, all sales were final and -- judging from the girth of the person who sold it to me -- I believed the policy was enforceable. So I wage war against seasonal debris at a disadvantage.
It is a well-known fact that beach sand originates on the beach but breeds in the back of station wagons. Never mind how much you rinse, launder or brush beach feet. The sand will still end up in your car. It cannot be removed. You couldn't get it all out even if you picked up the car and shook it.
There is, however, one exception. While some of the sand will always be in the car, much of what you bring back will also migrate to the house.
Within the first 24 hours of your post-beach reentry, expect the beds to feel like the bottom of a salt mine. You also will find sandbars in your bathtub. These are inevitable. You could strap the children to the fenders and put them through the car wash just before you get home, but this is not recommended.
Once your children have been to the beach, your house will always bear the evidence. Any lingering doubts will be overcome when, on a windy night in November, you open the front door and get sand in your eyes.
The same wind that blew in the sand will also blow in the autumn leaves. If you have children, the door will always be open and the leaves will move in permanently.
This type of seasonal debris is often beautiful. Sugar maples range from iridescent orange to yellow that glows in the moonlight. Teachers encourage children to make leaf collections and take them home. If, like me, you believe these leaves are Sistine look-alikes, you will bring them home, too, and arrange them in glass bowls on the dining room table. When the leaves fade, you will throw them away.
At night, however, the leaves will return and wedge themselves between cushions and behind bookshelves. They will hide there until they dry up and turn to powder, at which point they become indistinguishable from the sand. Neither leaves nor sand get along very well with the vacuum cleaner -- at least not mine.
You may also collect the fruit of the Osage Orange. Properly dried, you can stick them with cloves to produce a pomander au naturel. Improperly dried, the fruit will rot and change into maternity wards for small flies. You can throw out the fruit. The flies will leave when they are good and ready.
Autumn produces a harvest of nuts. If your child should tell you a friend has given her or him a spanish chestnut, find out who the friend is and have the person arrested for child abuse. This variety of chestnut is wrapped in a cocoon of spines which, when dry, turn into steel needles.
Imagine playing catch with a golf ball that has straightpins protruding point-first from every dimple. Dropped by plane into the Strait of Hormuz, these objects would drive up the price of gasoline 30 cents a gallon in two months. You do not want spanish chestnuts near your home except as anti-terrorist devices.
As dangerous as these things are, at least you can see them. The same thing cannot be said for Christmas tree needles in March. You will find out about this around 2 a.m. on St. Patrick's Day when you turn off the lights and walk barefoot across the shag carpet.
Children who receive dump trucks for Christmas have a habit of filling them with fallen needles, then dumping them in secret places. You will discover these places the hard way all year long.
You will think you've actually rid yourself of all the needles when you take down the tree. You, of course, will be wrong. Vacuum cleaners plow a nice path through piles of needles. But once the needles pass through the mouth of the cleaner, they turn the bag inside to gauze.
If you are very smart, you will never -- under any circumstances -- purchase plastic Easter grass. One bag for the basket of each child on just one Easter Sunday is enough to remain in the house until the mortgage is paid off. A panel at the National Academy of Aggravating Objects has unanimously named plastic Easter grass as "The Most Difficult Thing to Remove" -- surpassing wisdom teeth.
Parents in their late thirties are old enough to remember the days when car seats, sofas and easy chairs were sheathed in plastic covers. You will recall the effect this had on the backs of your bare legs when you tried to stand up after sitting down for an hour in August. It is my personal belief that the disappearance of plastic seat covers coincided with the emergence of plastic Easter grass, the former shredded and recycled to produce the latter.
This grass will stick to anything. Depending on the color you buy, it's all but invisible when you're looking for it. However -- when you're not -- it will turn up in dresser drawers, refrigerator crispers, closets and in the flap behind your tie. It ranks with Christmas tinsel as the top public enemy of vacuum cleaners. It wraps itself around the brushes, strangles the rotor blades, and means you'll have to take the machine apart to make it work again.
You cannot free yourself of seasonal debris altogether. But at least remember to watch where you buy your vacuum cleaner. It might be smarter to just go ahead and invest in industrial suction. Jim Stasny free-lances from his sand castle in Arlington.