Housekeeping

I am, by no stretch of the imagination, a clean freak. In summer, that beloved task of hanging laundry to dry keeps the laundry more or less under control. In winter the clothes tend to scatter a bit more, lingering in some of the most unlikely places. The downstairs bathroom is fairly tidy and mostly safe for company. The upstairs? Where I end up doing my morning hustle to get presentable for the world? Not so much. I won’t get crazy if the beds aren’t made every single day. Though, I do like a tidy bed to sleep in, so weirdly enough I will actually make the bed just to collapse into it for the night. Sometimes, this quirk annoys my better half–because he may have settled in to surf the web or read while I am doing the bedtime routine elsewhere. He doesn’t care so much if everything isn’t so neatly ordered. Me, I like my crisp hospital corners.

So it happened that this particular day I was up to my elbows (sort of) in dishes. We do at long last have a working dishwasher. We did without her for such a long time that my children decided she needed a name in celebration of her installation. We named her Rosie. (Feel free to laugh if you get the joke. If you didn’t you are probably too young anyway, but for your edification you should Google up some classic TV cartoons from the 70’s.) Despite the new dishwasher, if I have just a handful of dishes I don’t see the point of using her. So I do them by hand. An added perk this summer morning was to use only cool water. It was 80 degrees. In the house. Believe me cool water running over my hands and wrists was ever so delightful.

Broom.

Into the kitchen strolls my tween-age daughter, “Whatcha doin’ Maaaa-ma?”

“Tidying up the kitchen.”

With an eye roll and a huge sigh she states, “Agaaa-aaain? But you just did that.”

I was mildly amused and replied, “Not to worry, baby. Not a big, huge tidy up. Just a quick wash up of the dishes.”

“Whew!” she breathed, clearly relieved.

I was a little put off I have to say. The implication of this exchange being that I kept the house more like a barn, which is not strictly the case. Lived in, yes. Pig pen, not quite. I had however, just days before, done a massive clean-up involving cabinet scrubbing, stove detoxing, and hands-and-knees-style scrubbing of the kitchen floor grout with Barkeepers Friend, Scotchbrite, and old fashioned elbow grease. (Marketing announcement: That Barkeepers Friend stuff works. Seriously.) In any event, I felt it necessary to defend my decision to wash yesterday’s dishes the morning after.

“Well,” I asked “Don’t you think that if I have to choose between reading and a snuggle with you at bedtime and doing the dishes, that I’d rather spend the time with someone I love?”

She grinned and hugged me.

“You know if it’s a choice between cleanup and fun with my family, I’m going with family every time.”

She nodded, still wrapped around me like a squid. (She’s too small to be an octopus.)

It got me to thinking of the life lesson I learned from the mother of a high school friend. Rose had four children: two girls who were my age, and two very boisterous boys who were a few years younger. I loved to hang out at their house because of the constant noisy camaraderie. As an “only” my house tended to be much quieter. Invariably when I turned up, Rose would hustle me into the kitchen with her lilting Irish brogue and an admonishment to sit down and have a cup of tea. “And never mind the mess darling. Sure you’re not coming to see the house, so you’re not. My true friends are here to see me, not the state of the place.”

I suppose she didn’t know the impression she made at the time. My own mother would never let so much as a mosquito past the threshold without having everything in perfect order. It’s not a criticism. Her home and her family were her pride and joy. An immaculate and welcoming space was her expression of love, just as a huge meal and an urging to “Mangia! Mangia!” might be from an Italian mother. Or, for that matter, “Oh vey! So skinny! Eat! Eat!” from a Jewish one. Still I adored Rose for her freewheeling, devil-may-care style. There would be no flurry and frenzy of cleaning for everyday friends. All were welcome and that cup of tea was mandatory.

And so, I stood in my kitchen while the dishes drip-dried with my arms wrapped around my little girl. I remembered my now long gone friend, Rose. I smiled remembering all her warm welcomes and sage advice on this and many other matters. Then I shared a little piece of the love Rose had for all with a new generation as I told my daughter this story. Rose, I miss you still, but your memory really does live on in the hearts of those who loved you right back.


Kathleen Ronan is a writer and a nurse, specializing in meditation for medical applications. She’s also a harpist, a bookworm, and a renaissance woman.
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