Jerry Nelson: Autumn house cleaning
Fall is traditionally the time when we clean things up, put summertime items away and get ready for the Long Cold.
There are some who say they actually like winter, but they are in the minority, alongside those who enjoy getting a root canal or look forward to their colonoscopy.
One of my chores each fall is to use a power washer — essentially an industrial-strength Waterpik — to scour the entire exterior of our farmhouse.
Power washers are intended to be used for smaller, more intimate projects such as degreasing a grimy engine block or for quickly cleaning the kitchen table when your in-laws drop by for an unexpected visit. In a pinch — and I am definitely not recommending this — I suppose a power washer could also be used as a replacement spray nozzle in a bidet.
So there I am each autumn, perched high on a ladder that’s leaning precariously against our house, manhandling a hose that’s spewing water with the type of pressure that’s normally associated with Old Faithful.
Why? Because during the summer, the house’s vinyl siding has accumulated an unsightly collection of spiderwebs and flyspecks. One might think that the presence of all those spiders would result in a reduction of fly doots, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. Perhaps the flies, upon seeing all of those spiders, exclaimed “Oh crap!”
Once the fly season is safely behind us and the trees are defoliating, I thoroughly exfoliate the siding. It’s like giving the house a zit treatment.
Sometimes during my autumnal exterior house cleaning, I might discover a wasp’s nest dangling beneath the eaves like a tiny beige bell. I remove the squatter’s shack with a long stick and great trepidation. The papery structure is usually abandoned, but there have been times when further examination revealed a squirming wasp larvae in one of the nest’s cells. I squish the nest under my heel, hoping that the larvae’s ill-tempered and vengeful kinfolk didn’t see me. I scan the nearby airspace, holding the pressure washer’s wand in a defensive posture.
As I work my way around the house, I regard the pile of firewood that came from a tree that fell on the roof a few years ago. I’m somewhat ashamed that I haven’t burned all the firewood, but it’s so much easier to warm the house by punching the thermostatic button that rouses the LP gas furnace that slumbers in our basement.
The firewood reminds me of autumn preparations our family undertook when I was a youngster. One of the jobs was cutting firewood to feed the combination stove that sat in our kitchen. The “combination” part was due to the stove’s ability to cook with either wood or LP gas.
I recall how my uncle Coke would come over to our farm in the fall with a buzzsaw mounted on the front of his Farmall “H” tractor. The saw had a whizzing belt, a spinning shaft, and a humungous circular blade. The whirring blade bristled with teeth as large as those I would see some years later in the movie "Jaws."
None of this mechanism was shielded. We kids were fascinated by the buzzsaw, drawn to it like ants to a sugar cube.
In an effort to “help” we would bring sticks to Dad as he turned big logs into small ones. Dad would humor us by placing the sticks in the saw’s cradle and pushing it forward. The blade would make a quick “zing!” as it zipped through the twigs, a sound that both thrilled me and caused a bolt of fear to shoot from my head to my shoes.
A person might say that it was reckless to let kids hang around such a clearly dangerous piece of power equipment. That may be so, but seeing what the saw could do imbued me with a deep sense of respect for the thing. I had the same reaction after seeing what a shark can do in the movie "Jaws."
I eventually complete the task of giving the house its annual bath. Since I have the power washer out, I decide to hose off the pickup and the car. Then I notice that the deck and the sidewalk are looking grungy and could benefit from a good cleaning.
At the end of it all, I’m sodden and spattered with grime and there are ashen fragments of spiderweb in my hair. As I’m about to enter the house, my wife stops me and says, “You can’t come in here like that, you’re absolutely filthy! Stay right there and hand me the power washer’s wand.”
If you'd like to contact Jerry Nelson to do some public speaking, or just to register your comments, you can email him at email@example.com. His book, “Dear County Agent Guy,” is available at Workman.com and at booksellers everywhere.