Last weekend, I found myself crouched underneath the dining room table with a can of furniture polish and a well-worn cloth napkin, rubbing the grooves and carving that make up the pedestal. Because this is dull work, my mind was wandering and in my head, I could hear my mother telling me to rub all of the narrow ridges “because your fingers are smaller than mine”.
When I was considerably younger, polishing furniture was my job when my mother needed help cleaning the house. Specifically, I polished the stereo console-a long wooden box on legs that had a turntable at one end, and a huge file of albums at the other. Sliding wood doors enclosed it at the top, and it was carved and decorated all around–which took forever to clean. The only benefit of this job was that I could listen to any album I like, as long as I was careful. This meant delicately placing it on the spindle with the arm to balance and lock the album in place. When I pulled the lever to the side, the album would drop onto the turntable and the arm with the needle moved to the first song as the album started turning. Almost immediately I could hear Simon and Garfunkel or Sonny and Cher in stereophonic sound. This was the only good thing about cleaning as far as I was concerned; I hated all of this type of work and tried to skip out on it whenever possible.
I was raised by a mother who was house proud and worked hard to keep it neat and orderly.
The older I get, the more I appreciate this trait. Mostly because it’s barely present in me. It’s not that I don’t clean, I loathe a dirty bathroom and live for the smell and feel of fresh sheets. However, “stuff” seems to take over fairly easily at my house. Books in particular sprout legs and move around, creating piles on nightstands, stairs, and end tables. I love to visit homes that are in perfect order with no visible clutter or piles, but try as I might, I can’t seem to accomplish that myself.
I think it’s because the focus was on college and career when I was growing up. My mother was glad to be the “corporate wife” and was very good at it, but the culture was all about young women having it all; with nothing said about cleaning it up. I know that many women of my mother’s generation hesitated to emphasize pride in home keeping, and may have felt that their daughters needed a different message. Home Economics was taught in middle school and in those four years, I learned how to make a pillow, bake an apple, microwave peanut brittle and cross stitch. In this class, I can only remember lots of boring movies about careers; even then I wondered what they had to do with this particular course.
When I was old enough to leave home, I first lived in the dorms at USC. Those rooms were so tight that there had to be some semblance of order, if only to have somewhere to sleep at night and avoid walking on books and clothes. Later with a friend, I moved in a duplex close to campus; one of four in a cluster. It was small and awful, with cinderblock walls and a steel bar on the back door; and any cleaning we did was in anticipation of a party or when the dishes threatened to take over the house. Without a dishwasher, this soon became a major point of contention and we moved in less than six months. The duplexes were later torn down and DiPratos restaurant is now on the property; a huge improvement in my opinion.
In young adulthood, I lived in a series of apartments all over Columbia. When I could afford to live alone, I did a much better job at housekeeping; probably because I was perpetually broke with limited belongings. Once I was married, my husband and I bought our first house in the Whitehall subdivision and it was there that we learned about sweat equity. Nothing had been done to the house since it was built in the early 70’s. When you scrap off evil smelling wallpaper by the pound and spend all vacation days and weekends painting every surface, you learn to have an appreciation for home keeping. During that time, Martha Stewart was building quite a following with her cooking and entertaining shows on PBS, and she was who I wanted to emulate. Her home was gorgeous and lifestyle appeared enviable. This was my goal for the feel of a home.
I got over it when I started having kids.
However, spring in the one time of year that I actually itch to break out the soap and water. Here in South Carolina, spring brings the “yellow yucky”; pine pollen that appears after the first rain when the dogwoods are starting the bloom and winter seems like a memory. Out of nowhere appear large drifts of yellow pollen; invisible when released but very apparent on cars, doorsteps and everything else exposed to air. It drifts into the house, leading me to once again seal it up instead of allowing spring breezes to air the rooms. It always reminds me of the yellow chalk dust from my elementary school days, but is far more invasive. It coats my screened porch and chairs so that I am unable to sit outside to enjoy the warm mornings and blooms appearing in my yard; ruining one of my favorite places to sit. It does no good to sweep or dust, the pollen only swirls in a yellow cloud to settle back down again without moving. Washing cars doesn’t help because more is released by the trees immediately to create small yellow rings where water had dropped or puddled.
Its only when I believe I can’t stand the mess anymore that we get a good day or two of spring thunderstorms. Even then, if they arrive too early, it just leads to more yellow from the stimulated growth. Only when there is no longer streaks of yellow on the windshields and the air appears clearer that it’s time to clean.
All furniture is carried off on my screened porch to the concreate pad that serves as a scrubbing area. My kids are put to work with hot soapy water and the hose, banging cushions against trees to remove dust and spot cleaning upholstery. The area rug was vacuumed before we started, then hung on a line between two trees and hosed off. All are placed in the sun to dry off and air out, the cushions for several days.
The hose is dragged onto the porch and everything is sprayed down; ceiling to floor. With a long handled scrub brush and a bucket of hot soapy water with bleach, I start at the top. Yes, I know bleach is harsh, but our humid moist environment promotes black mildew growth and the wood is covered with long dark blooms by the end of winter. The only way to get rid of it is bleach, and a lot of elbow grease. I use a full sized ladder to clean the ceiling fan-carefully balancing myself and the bucket on what is a very wet, slick floor. Spider webs are swept from corners, surprisingly persistent against streams of water from the hose.
Slowly the yellow disappears in pools and streams over the edge of the steps. By the time my scrub brush makes it to the concrete floors, the whole porch looks brighter and has a light soapy smell. The excess water is squeegeed for faster drying (squeegees are a great tool). Everything is damp and needs a good 24 hours to dry so I can’t even enjoy my labor until the weekend is over. The whole process takes several hours and leaves my muscles aching and my fingers and toes pale and waterlogged.
Still, when it is all back in place, I can sit on my porch and marvel at the bright white paint and fresh smells. I can walk around in my socks and they won’t get dirty. It doesn’t matter that the book pile beside my bed is threatening to topple over and there will be five loads of laundry once again by Friday. My version of spring cleaning is done.
Between Naps on the Porch (http://betweennapsontheporch.net/)
Bernideen’s Tea Time, Cottage and Garden (http://blog.bernideens.com/)
Rose Chintz Cottage (http://sandimyyellowdoor.blogspot.com/2016/04/no-place-like-home-25.html)