Most of you know that I don't have a lot of warm memories about my mother -- especially from my adult years. But I will say this -- and proudly -- my mother could C L E A N! Now she wasn't just a housewife -- that woman kept the cleanest house I've ever been in. She scrubbed, scoured, and dusted every day. She had her doctorate in keeping a house clean -- so clean even the basement floors were always pristine. Plus, her home was warm and lovely to see. Everyone gathered there -- because you could always come and things were in their place, food was ready to be served, and the furniture was "relatively" comfortable. We had a lot of beautiful, expensive antiques but Mother also had comfortable couches and deep arm chairs for lounging.
She saw to it that I cleaned with her. I wasn't very interested and dusting all those nick-knacks all over the place was tiresome. Scrubbing marble entryways (sounds a lot grander than it really was) or bathroom tiles did not reward me in any sense. Some of our biggest arguments during my teen years was over the state Mother would find my bedroom. When we moved into my grandmother's house after she had died, I had the second floor to myself -- with my own half bath. It was huge room with a walk-in closet, pretty unique for a house built during the 1920's in Kansas City. Moreover it had a huge alcove completely lined in bookshelves. I loved that alcove -- and all my father's and my books housed there. Mother had decorated the room beautifully with silk love seats, a fireplace, Grandmother's antique library table for my desk . . . and painted it dusky pink. It was a feminine teenagers dream and I loved the room.
But I didn't clean that room unless I was forced into it. Sometime in the middle of the week (I would never know when) Mother would go upstairs -- and find: bathroom covered in hair products and makeup, clothes -- both clean and dirty -- on the floor. Bed always unmade -- why make a bed in the morning if your only going to get into it that same day? Books and papers scattered everywhere. I always had good intentions -- I just didn't ever think about actually cleaning the room.
I would come home from high school and find my mother in a terrible state -- and my mother mad was truly a seismic event. But she had always -- and I mean always -- cleaned up the room. Consequently, though I lived through her anger for the next 24 hours, I wouldn't have to clean the room until the next week - and then I'd forget (or ignore the mess) and we'd repeat the cycle.
Hubby thinks both my dad and I did these kind of things because we had no control in the household -- and this ensured that we could upset Mother with the double bonus of not bowing to her demands. I'll never forget the evening Mother sent Dad out to water the flowers on the same day she had washed all the windows in the house -- and instead of watering the flowers, he turned the hose on the house where all the windows were spattered, the screens were in place and the inside windows up, and the living room and dining room were soaked. Her eruption on that accident equaled Mt. Vesuvius exploding. Then there was the night Daddy dropped the newly purchased watermelon on removing it from the frig. Some juice leaked out on the floor Mother had just waxed that afternoon. Mother jumped up from the table, grabbed the watermelon Daddy had just picked up, and smashed it with full force onto the floor of the kitchen. This drop caused it to shatter into hundreds of tiny red islands floating all over the kitchen floor. She then picked up the keys, walked to the car, and drove away -- leaving Daddy and me to clean up the mess as best we could. I remember sobbing into the sink as we vainly tried to get the sticky juice from spreading beyond the kitchen.
Anyway, those stories aside, my mother did teach me what real cleaning entails -- not just dusting or polishing but actual deep down clean. And the truth is, her voice is in my head if I try NOT to really "clean" something but just spiff it up. During the glory years of the 1980's I had a maid and she came every other week and cleaned the house (she dusted and polished) -- and twice a year I did a complete cleaning of everything in the house -- every glass, every dish, every do-dad sitting around got completely cleaned. But in the 1990's, after I left teaching the first time, I gave up the maid -- and honestly, I just quit cleaning the house. I'd do a sweep out of the bathroom and kitchen sometimes -- and sometimes not. Then came the 2000's and I just gave up on the house. Hubby could no longer negotiate the stairs down to what had actually served as our living room and dining area when we had guests. The upstairs was too small for real entertainment. So I just quit any real cleaning.
However, I KNOW what real cleaning is -- and when people have asked me what I intend to do during my retirement -- I do NOT explain that what I'm doing is R E A L L Y cleaning the house. I'm cleaning it to pass my mother's inspection. I'm taking it slow. Very, very slow. Last week I attacked the bathroom floor. Once the floor had white tiles on it -- but sometime in the last decade it turned gray. No more! That floor is sparkling white once again. This week it's the bathroom walls. The bleach smell is everywhere in our little abode. And I'm only still working on the bathroom. But eventually, that bathroom will be clean enough to pass the inspection my mother is currently giving it in my head.
Then we'll move on to another room -- either the bedroom or the computer room, depending on my mood. At the state the house is still in, my mother would be apoplectic at the mess and grime -- and she'd be right, if overly critical. But from her I know HOW to clean -- and I'm slowly getting it done.