Spring Cleaning

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Growing up in South Troy my friends and I loved the month of April and the arrival of Spring. It wasn’t just the change in weather and seeing the bitter cold wave goodbye for another eight months; it was also the free trash. What am I talking about? Well, let me explain it to you.
Back in the 1970’s Troy had a policy that every April you could do your spring cleaning around the house and put what you didn’t want out in front on the curb. And I’m talking anything. If you put it out, a big city garbage truck would roll by and take it away. It was not uncommon to see kitchen tables, bathtubs, old bicycles with broken chains and bent tires; anything was good to go.
As you can imagine this created a gold mine for teenage boys looking for mischief or perhaps some hidden treasure. Every April, once the snow melted and the fields dried, we would walk the streets of Troy and scavenge through these piles of junk; looking for items we could use in our fort. What fort? The one we would soon build thanks to the Finn’s or Riley’s throwing away an old wooden door and some plywood.
We’d spread out with a grocery list of items to acquire and meet back up at some designated spot in the woods to build our fortress. It was great harmless fun for boys, before the invention of computers, social media and all the other things that have turned our children into mindless couch potatoes. So why am I reminiscing about trash on the curb and sharing this “Stand by Me” moment about my childhood friends from long ago? Like most things that present themselves to us as unimportant at the time, I think there is a life lesson in there that most of us miss.
Spring is a perfect time to clean out the house, bag up clothes that are better served at Goodwill and do a personal inventory on what’s working or not in our lives. I’ve always hated New Year’s resolutions because there is nothing magical about January 1st that suddenly gives people willpower they normally don’t possess. But Spring? I think Spring is a different animal altogether. This is the perfect time to get moving if you need more exercise. To toss out the bad food in the cabinet if you keep visiting it late at night. It’s also the perfect time to evaluate what makes you happy and sad.
Studies show too much time on Facebook and Instagram is bad for children but what about the rest of us? How many books could you read in a year if you kept your social media surfing to just 15 minutes, twice a day? Do you know I had never read “To Kill A Mockingbird” until I turned 50 years old? One day I decided to take a break from Facebook and read the darn thing and boy was it worth it. Every time I hear the word Scout I think of that child now and the lessons she was forced to learn.
April is also a good time to reflect on that trash heap the people of Troy used to create, and we children would gratefully mine. Is there trash in your own personal life that needs to be dragged into the light and placed by the curb? Is there a friendship that went south because one of you said the wrong thing years ago and neither of you wanted to be the first to pick up the phone and say, “I’m sorry.” Perhaps now is the time. Is there a “friend” in your life who constantly brings anger and drama to you and it’s time to take them to the curb, hug them goodbye and wish them well?
Are there bad things in your life that are still useful to you, like that old wooden door my friend’s mom threw away? Let’s say you went through a painful divorce, is there nothing you can take from the experience that can better you as a person? I’ve known lots of moms and dads who took time with their children for granted until they sat in front of a judge and had that precious time carved up into tiny portions like an Easter ham. Crazy as it sounds bad events can change people for the better.
One final thought. We kids used to go through other people’s trash looking for something useful. As adults are we looking closely at what our friends and family are putting out on the curb of their own lives and paying attention to it? People in trouble who need help usually won’t ask for it until it’s too late. But later, after some horrible thing has happened, it’s easy to look back at the signs they were putting out all along and ask ourselves, “How did I miss that?” You missed it because you weren’t looking.
April is finally here. What will you do with it? I know if Scout were here she’d help me find some scrap wood and build a fort with walls of love, floors of hope and a ceiling void of regret.
John Gray is weekly columnist for the Troy Record and the Saratogian newspapers and news anchor at ABC 10 and FOX 23. He can be reached at johngray@fox23news.com.

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