Thursday, May 22, 2008

Cleaning Lady

Jiggs fell in love with every guy's dream. Petite, brunette, with a crooked smile, and an easy laugh, Junie stole his heart the first time they met. Home on leave during WWII, he was staying with some guys in a cabin in Brighton, Utah, and they heard giggling girls through the trees. With the excuse of needing a cup of sugar, the boys introduced themselves to the girls and I became a gleam in their eye. (They were later known to me as Mom and Dad.)

After the war, when they were engaged, Junie's father was listing her qualities to Jiggs. He saved the highest praise for last: "And she sure can clean!" It was true. Dad used to joke that if he got up to go to the bathroom at night, he came back and his side of the bed was made. We had a weekly cleaning lady from the time I was eight, but she wasn't really hired to save Mom the effort. She was there so my mom would have a built-in friend to clean with.

"If it's worth doing, it's worth doing well," is an adage I grew up with. I have always disagreed. Some things are not worth doing well! I like clean, but my mom's standards were always higher than I thought necessary. Of course, she re-did my chores when I fell short so I didn't have to live with the result. (Until I was married I didn't know that hairspray would eventually obscure my image in the mirror, if it was not wiped off routinely. My standards went a little higher.)

When I was a girl the dishes were not done until the floor was swept and the top of the refrigerator was wiped off. Mom always checked the details. I dropped the fridge ideal as soon as I took over. I never noticed it much, and neither did Dee, but now we have several in-law kids that top six feet, and I realize the dust is very obvious to those over 5'8".

After a trip to the bathroom we kids were expected to flush, wash, and shine up the fixtures. The knobs on our washer and dryer were as spotless as the silverware. Sheets were never folded haphazardly. Even the fitted sheets had crisp creases. Mom didn't just pull up the covers to make the bed. She pulled all the blankets down for a little airing, smoothed the bottom sheet and folded the top sheet carefully over the top, remade the hospital corners and tucked the sides in tight. Pillowcases were ironed, and a clean handkerchief was hidden under Dad's pillow.

Later, when Mom came over to babysit my kids, I could always expect that my toaster would be crumb-free, the ketchup and mayonnaise jars sanitized, and the mop boards wiped off. She took apart the blender and cleaned each piece after every blend! For some strange reason, I didn't acknowledge all her kindnesses. I was an ungrateful daughter. I felt silently criticized, assuming she was judging my lack of homemaking skills. I'm sure she just did these tasks naturally, and could see I was overwhelmed, unable to attend to the nitty gritty. I feel bad that I wasn't more appreciative.

Junie became a woman who golfed and gardened, refinished furniture and baked bread. She was an interior decorator and a gifted seamstress. She hosted parties for celebrities, canned her own peaches and doted on her family until the day she died. She had a multitude of charms.

And she was the best cleaning lady we ever had.

What were your chores as a kid? Do you have any tips for teaching kids to work? Do you do things the way your mom did?

(All of the vintage illustrations in this post are included in the book Mom's Almanac, edited by Alice Wong and Lena Tabori and published by Welcome Books, 2004.)


mama jo said...

well, i had the same teacher, probably the same chores...always ironed hankies and pillow cases...cleaned my bedroom and bathroom every saturday, did the dishes...i mowed the lawn when tee was on his mission...don't know if i taught my kids the same, i tried...we used to have chores...kelly was the carpet 'vacuumer', willie the 'floor vacuumer', russ was the trash man, and kerry dusted...they were all great at that...when the older two left, i started shutting kerry and russ' rooms...then i didn't have to yell or see the mess!!

Christie said...

They don't make 'em like they used to. Your mom was one of a kind.

Ink Poison said...

In our family, the skills of cleaning have diminished with each generation. My grandmother worked like four horses, my mother works like two horses and I might be considered an old mule. I am grateful to have been taught what "clean" really is though, even if it isn't up to regulations every day. (And starched pillow cases are the BEST to sleep on.)

Ashlee said...

She was really on top of things! :0) We rotated chores growing up. Dusting, vacuuming, kitchen, bathroom, and living room. I hated it when it was my turn for the bathroom. I still do! :0)

gab said...

Grama would shudder if she walked into my kitchen right now.

gab said...
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Nancy said...


Funny you should ask what my childhood chores were.I just wrote yesterday about one of my jobs.

When I was a child the milkman and the breadman still used a horse and wagon to deliver to us. The horses often would relieve themselves on the street.

One day it dawned on my Mother that the manure would make a wonderful fertilizer for her roses so she gave me a bucket and shovel and sent me into the street to pick up the horse manure.

Naturally, every kid on the block watched me and stood around laughing because THEIR mom didn't make them do that. So, every day it was my job to watch for the milkman and collect the manure for the roses,and the kids watched for ME so they could stand around laughing at my task.

I begged my mother to let me stop but by this time the roses were gorgeous. Big, bushy and fragrant. and she wasn't about to lose the beauty of the roses for my vanity.

My Mother's roses began winning blue ribbons at flower shows but by this time I needed a psychiatrist to help me get over the embarrassment of it all.

I was happy when we moved and they were someone else's roses but I'll never forget that job......

Allison Weenig said...

What a sweet post. I think your mom and my mom are related. We "calm down" in the cleaning department with each generation though. Hey, I've got better things to do than iron pillowcases. Blogging for one!

MissKris said...

I love the illustrations! I must admit I'm a lot more 'relaxed', shall we say, than my mom was about housework, at least at this stage in my life. Once I'm taking care of both my grandsons it's enough just keeping up with Dylan especially, ha! I used to be totally anal about housekeeping and now that I'm more laid back about it my grown daughter asked, "How come they're so lucky?!", meaning the grandsons. She says she wishes I'd eased up when she and her brother were little. But when you grow up in a house where we could've eaten out of the toilet, it's hard to ease up.

Bridget said...

My dad is quite particular as you probably know. He had some lessons for us on the proper way to wipe a kitchen table, scrub toilets and pull weeds. I still remember all the useful tips and try to teach them to my kids.

kenju said...

My mom's standards were almost as stringent as your mom's. Every Sat., I had to dust the entire house (and my mom had lots of clutter). I had to do dishes almost every night and they had to be rinsed in boiling hot water and dried by hand. Woe unto me if there were spots on anything. We drew the line at the top of the fridge. It got done maybe every 3 months (as does mine).....LOL

Anonymous said...

I have to tell you I'm having a bit of a "twilight zone" moment.

For the past week or so I've been thinking and reading about journaling and the importance of it. I even wrote a post for my blog about it and posted it yesterday morning. Yesterday evening I visited your blog and saw the quote from President Hinckley about journals and was a bit taken aback.

For the past several days I've been contemplating chores and my children's attitudes about it, where my focus should be, how to make it a better experience for everyone involved, etc.

This afternoon I remembered an article I'd read a few years ago in the Brigham Young Magazine about family work and decided to go look for it and reread it.

As I was headed to the closet it was stored in, I passed the computer and decided to look at my blog and then yours. I just about fell off my chair when I saw this article.

I'm not sure whether to say great minds think alike or we must be kindred spirits or that the Lord is using you to help reinforce that I'm heading in the right direction. Whichever is the case, Thank You!

If you or anyone else is interested the article is a wonderful article entitled, "Family Work" by Kathleen Bahr and is found in the Spring 2000 edition of the Brigham Young Magazine.

i'm kelly said...

grandma was truly amazing. i remember that every time she came to visit us she used to iron for hours. my mom never seemed to pick up her love for ironing, so my dad would just save it all up for her.

diane said...

I love it when my mother in law comes and does some deep cleaning...between the double ovens,organize the pantry, inside the dishwasher. I didn't even know half of the stuff could even be cleaned.
One of my chores was to vac and rake the orange and red, deep pile shag! So very Brady Bunch!

Polly said...

Mom was the best. I think as she cleaned and taught me to clean, she taught me how much she loved her home, wherever that was. She taught me that you could make a charming home out of a 12 x 60 trailor or your first apartment or a duplex or a house with no furniture or a house with used furniture. Just keep it clean and use your imagination and surround yourself with those you love.