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.)