I come from the before-moms-went-to-work generation, so keeping house is what my mother did. She was damn good at it, still is at 84. At my house, on any given day, you could eat a meal off the floor of your choosing. During the deep cleaning rituals of spring and fall, this perpetual state of spotlessness reached a new threshold. They are scrubbed clean slivers of time that I remember well. It’s also something I couldn’t imitate if you threatened to dunk my head in a bucket of bleach. On those two days of the year, we’d come through the front door to a nose full of Windex, every Electrolux attachment on duty, and Mother poised on a step ladder. She wasn’t wearing pearls, but she surely wouldn’t have stood in front of an open window without makeup on or her hair done. By the time we got home, she’d worked her way to the changing of the curtains—kind of like the changing of the guard, only more formal. Years removed, the memory of that gold-tweed fabric evokes the crisp scent of fall, the same way a blooming cherry tree makes me think of bright white sheers. We had beautiful curtains (Mother sewed them all) along with Sunday roast beef dinners and a no-nonsense, “Drink some orange juice, go to school, you’ll feel better,” approach to life. It wasn’t the touchy-feely, my kids are the center of universe, attitude we often see today, but it did manage to get my sisters and me to here.
|Bayport, New York, circa 1965. Cherry tree, pre-blossom.|
Mother and I are not kindred spirits, which is not a problem, just the way it is. We get along fine, but it isn’t the relationship I have with my daughters. Although, on the right day, my daughters would probably tell you that we don’t see eye-to-eye on everything either. Bill O’Reilly, Nicholas Sparks novels, tiny china teacups and pantyhose are just a few of the things that I can’t get my mind around. Mother, on the other hand, takes exception to my lackadaisical politics, supersize glasses of wine, and often crass sense of humor. Here, however, is where we sync perfectly: when I think of the way Mother kept house, I think of the way I write. Cleaning was just a broad term for every minute task that went into the maintenance of her home. She would purge and polish, refresh and review with a relentless eye. Dinner was an event, complete with an ironed tablecloth, dessert included, served precisely at 5:30 p.m. on weeknights. On summer Tuesdays the wash hung outside and on Thursdays bathrooms were scrubbed clean—period. Mother did everything she could to make her space—our space—the absolute best it could be. Admittedly, the book writing process is not Mother’s forte, why it takes so long, or why I invest insane amounts of time writing, researching, editing and rewriting. I mean, seriously, isn’t the wash piling up somewhere? But I do have an answer when she questions my all-consuming nature, a dogged insistence on my optimal performance. I remind Mother, “I’m only doing exactly what you taught me.”
Laura Spinella is the author of the award-winning novel, BEAUTIFUL DISASTER and the upcoming novel, PERFECT TIMING. Visit her at www.lauraspinella.net.