House Cleaning

Some folks say you can tell a lot about a person by the way they keep house. Sweeping. Dusting. Orderliness. The toilet. I’m getting personal here. I may even be treading on dangerous ground.

My wife and I are no Saints in this sector of home life. I don’t think I’m telling any tales here. At least half the housekeeping issues are mine and half are hers. We are comfortable with a certain level of clutter and dust. No one has ever died from a stack of newspapers falling on them. And, in the dark, you can’t even see the smears on the big window in the family room.

Most southern women are raised to think that housekeeping is their Christian duty. “Cleanliness is next to Godliness.” This guilt they bear comes from a legend that when God gave Eve to Adam, she came with a broom in one hand and a toilet brush in the other. It’s been circulated for centuries among women folk who take clean floors and orderly houses to be the gospel. And, I must say, the men-folk have been all too eager to preach that gospel in the hope of getting out of some of the work.

My Mama swept the kitchen floor every day. Most things at home were decent and orderly, but there was always a stack of magazines and newspapers in a chair in the den that listed a bit to one side. No one ever sat in that chair. Its sole purpose was to serve as a repository for a year’s worth of the AJC and Good Housekeeping. Which I find ironical.

We spent several summers in the late 60s at Panama City Beach over the week of July 4th. Every year we reserved the same little cottage at the same motel. Swam in the same pool. Played skeetball at the same arcaid. And ate the same meal at Captain Anderson’s. It was familiar, like we owned our own little piece of paradise.

One year, the Lofton family went with us. Miss Helen was a house cleaning machine. I’m not sure she realized that we were there to relax, to get away from work. We ran barefooted all day long and tracked in sand all over the tile floor in that cottage. You had to be careful or you might get knocked over by her broom. We ate lunch. She swept the floor. We came back from the beach. She swept the floor. I think she even changed sheets on the beds so housekeeping wouldn’t have to.

“I don’t need anybody to do my job for me.” It was a matter of principle and pride for her. And, bless her heart, it drove my Mama nuts.

“Helen,” Mama would say. “You need to put that broom down and eat some lunch. We’re on vacation, you know.”

My Aunt Helen and my Aunt Mary Eliza even swept the yard with a broom made from Willow branches. Massive, ancient Water Oaks stood around both houses. No grass could grow in that deep shade and the acorns and slick little leaves seemed to fall year-round. The tightly wound home-made broom would leave little lines in the dirt. And to do it right, all the lines needed to go the same direction. Order had to be kept.

I don’t know where all that focused energy went in the gene pool. I think it skipped a generation or two, or three. Maybe it moved to Colorado.

I have been in houses where the couch had a plastic cover on it and shoes-off-at-the-door was required. No food allowed anywhere except in the kitchen or out in the yard. It was kind of a sterile environment for a kid who was used to eating ice cream in the den while watching Gunsmoke. But to each his own.

I keep telling my wife not to worry about the house. She is way more embarrassed by our disorder than I am. “Don’t feel like you need to apologize” I tell her. I don’t expect perfection. I don’t want to have to live in a museum. I want a house that shows some signs of life and the mess that comes with it. I’m with her. I’d rather eat chocolate cake than vacuum any day of the week.

Our bug guy, Randy, called the other night. He comes the third Tuesday of every month, but he always calls on Monday to make sure it’s okay to come. He’s a gentleman and a bug specialist. He brings death to six and eight legged invaders that find their way into our house. I pick up the phone. We chat for a moment. He asks the question about coming to spray. And my wife’s response?

“Tell him the house is a mess but come on.”

Randy has seen it all, I’m sure. His work gives him an inside view of how folks live. I suspect he’s seen some much worse and some much better than ours. He promised not to take pictures and post them on FB.

Since I’ve been working on redoing our bathroom for months now, I always look forward to Randy’s observations about the progress. Knowing he is going to see it every 30 days or so keeps me motivated.

When I get home from work, I ask, “Did Randy come today?”

“He did.” She knows what I’m really asking, but she toys with me.


“Well, what?”

“Did he notice the bathroom?”

“Oh, that. Yeah, he said it’s looking real nice. Coming right along.”

In large part due to the remodel efforts our walk-in closet is a mess with barely enough room to step around the paint cans and tools carefully placed in an around the shoes and dirty laundry. It’s more of a squeeze in closet these days. Just another part of living.

My neighbor Nancy has always been honest about her housekeeping skills. “I don’t care,” she says. “If the mess bothers you, then; well, I guess you’ll just have to be bothered.” It’s quite liberating to be free of an unhealthy anxiety over the small messes of life.

I like that. True friends are like family. If they want to sit down, they can move the newspaper out of the way just like I do. If they want a clean glass, they can get one out of the dishwasher if there’s not one in the cabinet. And if they don’t like the look of the toilet, there’s Pine Sol and a brush under the sink. Help yourself.

I think a lot of folks made themselves promises during this quarantine period. Things like, “If I ever get time, I’m going to clean up this house, top to bottom. I’m sick of the mess.”

Apparently, we are not sick of it enough, quite yet. But we are comfortable. We are not living in filth, by the way. We are just living with whatever life throws at us. You are welcome any time. There are always clean drinking glasses in one of two places. The tap water comes out of a clean, cold well. And on your way out, would you mind getting that trash bag by the door and take it around back to the big green can.

One more thing. Before you go, could you get that big smear off the window in the family room. That thing is driving me nuts.