April 15, 2004
It happens every spring. Not the start of baseball season. It's Cape Girardeau's annual spring cleanup week, a phenomenon that fills me with anticipation. Make that dread.
California and perhaps much of the rest of the world have nothing like this, so an explanation might be necessary. The residents of the city set out by the curb all the trash, branches, broken down appliances and junk they've accumulated over the past winter. The city picks it all up for free, but people roaming the streets in pickups usually beat the work crews to the best junk.
The cracked marble sink still leaning against the foundation of our house was one of the first treasures DC scavenged right after we moved back from California. She says its purpose for being in our yard just hasn't yet revealed itself.
At least three rooms in our house and most of our basement are crammed with things whose purpose in our lives is waiting to be discovered. Still she craves more.
Every year at this time, DC phones our neighbor, Tom, to see if he's ready to put out the broken-down Morris chair she knows is in his basement. Every year he says, "Not yet."
Maybe DC and I just aren't creative enough with our junk. We know a woman who hangs kitchen utensils from an old set of metal bed springs attached to her kitchen wall.
I look at spring cleanup week as a time to rid yourself of that which is unnecessary, that which is cluttering up your life, obscuring that which is essential. DC thinks it is a time for rescuing cultural artifacts, lamps and tables whose tattered beauty is unappreciated by those who have tossed them aside.
She is getting a slow start this year. So far she has nabbed only an artificial Christmas tree she intends to give to the Glenn House, a historic Victorian mansion that apparently can never have too many Christmas trees.
Our friend, Gail, may be the queen of spring cleanup week. She also found a Christmas tree, this one hot-glued with ornaments. Her haul so far also includes an Adirondack chair and a hot yellow velour rocking chair left over from the '60s.
Gail usually finds something else among her treasures: Neighborliness. At a frosty 1 a.m. this week she met a grandfather who was looking for a car seat for when his new granddaughter comes to visit. Gail helped him find one she remembered seeing on Spanish Street. To her, spring cleanup week has the effect of spreading good will throughout the community.
Our Danish friend, Frank, is a spring cleanup week fan, too. Denmark has nothing like it. Frank believes in recycling, and this is a recycling system that works well. People who can afford to buy new things conveniently discard their old things, which are picked up by people who perhaps can't afford new or prefer something with miles on it. It helps people who can't afford to have their trash hauled away or elderly people who can't do it themselves.
Cape Girardeau is a better and tidier city for it.
Ironically, the city is considering putting an end to spring cleanup week to save money. I wonder whether the savings will be worth the cost to the quality of our lives.
Sam Blackwell is managing editor of the Southeast Missourian.