Spring Cleaning Week: My Lifelong Love Affair with Vacuums

I've loved vacuuming since even before I could remember, as this picture demonstrates. I was 11 months old.

When I was two and a half years old, my parents took me to spend the weekend at the Lake Tahoe cabin of a friend of theirs. This trip was significant for two main reasons: It was wintertime, so this was my introduction to snow. More importantly, it was my first memory of vacuuming.

Every child has a few memories that, in some way, come to shape and define him. This is one of mine.

Since I was only two and a half, of course I don’t have many memories of that trip. I don’t remember the snow. I don’t remember the drive up into the mountains. What I do remember, quite vividly, is the vacuuming. Or, rather, the blister I got on my finger because I was pushing around the vacuum so much. The vacuum must have been taller than I was, and it probably weighed as much as I did. Since then, I’ve had a life-long love affair with vacuums – my wife will testify to that.

When I was 10 years old or so, my family’s old vacuum finally stopped sucking and died. It had always sucked, as far as I was concerned. Its problem was actually that it didn’t have enough sucking power, plus the motor made an awful, grating noise. I can hear it now, clacking up and down the hallway.

My parents bought a new vacuum, right around Christmastime. As far as I was concerned, this was the best present I got that year. (So I either got pleasure from strange things or I was a deprived child. Or both.) The best part about this vacuum? It had a light. My younger brother and I would dim the lights in the dining room, then push the vacuum around, looking covertly for dirt.

Since it was Christmastime, we put up our Christmas tree. Of course, taking the tree in from outside meant some needles were going to fall on the carpet. It was magical to push that new vacuum around, see the pine needles disappear under the mouth of the vacuum, and hear them click around in the vacuum before whooshing into the bag. Proust had his taste of madelines, I have my sound of pine needles in a vacuum.

When my wife and I got married, we registered for a whole bunch of kitchen gadgets. We didn’t ask for a vacuum, mostly because a vacuum isn’t a very fun present, plus my wife already had a vacuum. It was a battery-operated Shark model, but it did have a spinning brush, and I figured that would be enough.

Big mistake.

My wife has long hair, and the Shark’s wimpy motor was no match for the volume of hair it was attempting to pick up on a regular basis. The brush was frequently jamming with a mess of hair wound around its gears. After completely dismantling the vacuum twice, just to have it jam again after a couple more uses I gave up, tossed the crappy Shark, vowed never to buy a battery-operated stick vacuum again, and called in the big guns.

My wife brought home our new vacuum from Macy’s about nine months after we had gotten married. She swore it was the happiest I had looked since our wedding day. She was probably right. This vacuum is amazing – it has a special dust-trapping filter, and a super-cool dirt-emptying trap door. I haven’t gotten a blister from using it. Not yet, at least.

With my vacuum in hand I listen for that familiar sound of dirt or dried crumbs getting sucked into the bowels of the powerful machine. And the memories come flooding back.

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