It was a slogan that my mother proudly carried on a keychain, and a favorite of hers.
As this might suggest, she kept house only as necessary, i.e., when – GASP! – there were people coming over!!
Yes, the dishes were routinely done, and by hand – she often joked, ‘My dishwasher is six feet tall and has a beard’ – and the ashtrays and cat boxes were dumped and dealt with as needed, but I rarely saw her with a duster in her hand. The toilets and tubs were scrubbed ‘when they got bad’. And she certainly didn’t do windows. Old newspapers got stacked up, often for weeks or even months at a time; recycling was scattered about and put off until Dad could get to the dump on a Saturday morning.
But at the prospect of visiting company, she would become even more a bundle of nerves than she already was, hurrying around the house to catch up with the mountain of tasks that had been accumulating, vacuuming this and wiping down that, and thinking out loud the entire time.
There was one time of year when this routine, such as it was, would coalesce, and that was leading up to New Year’s.
I don’t recall anymore if it was a Scottish/British thing, or just a Mom’s family thing, but she didn’t partake in the spring cleaning tradition that so many others observe in this culture. She was instead taught by her mother that it’s bad luck to not have your housework done by New Year’s Day. So, I have lots of memories of my mother the week after Christmas, doing what was still called ‘the spring cleaning’ – windows/mopping/polishing/reorganization.
Of course, once I was old enough to carry an old rag and a bottle of Pledge, or tug a vacuum cleaner around the house, I helped out too – but my room stubbornly remained the cluttered mess that I enjoyed.
And this all had to be done by just before 7pm ET, which was when the phone on the kitchen wall would ring and my Granny on the other end would turn up the radio or TV in her living room in Scotland to transmit the midnight ringing of Big Ben over the phone line to my mom, who would stand motionless with the receiver to her ear, weeping the tears of homesickness.
This month marks 16 years since my mother’s passing, and also nearly 30 years since I moved out on my own to figure out what kind of housekeeper I would turn out to be (hint – I’m not boring).
Happy New Year, dusty or scrubbed as you are!