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Reflections August 2012

Agelessly Yours

Spare Me The Dust Cloth

By Karen White-Walker

You would think all that exposure to “scrubbing according to the gospel of Mama and Pauline” would have found its way into my cleaning habits. Wrong. Which way does a dust cloth go again?

Some things are just plain bull. They say you learn from example, that what you've been exposed to as a child will leave an indelible imprint on your psyche forever. We can only hope all the stuff is good, but what are the odds? Lousy.

Here are the facts — both my beloved grandmother Mama and my Aunt Pauline kept squeaky- clean homes, and as a kid I used to beg to stay at their places. Not because my own parents and siblings didn't enjoy the heck out of me when I was around them, oh no, it's because with organization one gets the sense of peace and tranquility, and well, you just didn't get that where I lived, “down on the farm.” Our hectic home held all the drama of opening night at the theatre and, well, once in a while I didn't feel like an encore.

Mama and Aunt Pauline had a real mission in life — to keep not only the cleanest houses on the block, but in the universe. They succeeded. You awoke to the aroma of ammonia and sometimes the fumes braised the insides of your nostrils and caused your eyes to tear. You barely had one toe out of bed and there was good old Mama pumping up your pillows and making the bed before you toyed with any lazy notions of crawling back in.

"Rise and shine," ordered Mama, "God no like you to miss His sun-a-rise. You tink He make-a such a miracle for nothin'?"

"Mama, there's billions of people out there to notice His miracle. He won't even know I missed it."

"Shame on-a you, Karolina, God notices everyting and He lives everywhere."

So that's why she and Aunt Pauline were so fanatical about keeping the perfect houses — God lived there too!

Every Saturday looked like moving out day — pictures were stripped from the walls, mattresses pulled off of bedsprings and floor registers were yanked out of floorboards. That's when I went home, because I got tired of dodging 12" potholes in the floor, and you know what? Too much peace, tranquility, and cleanliness can drive you crazy! I began to appreciate that my mom didn't care if you only blew on the furniture as your means of dusting.

"A hundred years from now who will know the difference?" she laughed. Really, she was my type of girl. Often she'd ask herself if her children would rather have homemade cookies when they came home from school, or a dust-free house, and always, the cookies won out.

Both Mama and Aunt Pauline ironed socks, underwear and dust cloths. All were folded with the reverence and precision of an American flag that had been draped over some hero's coffin. You would think all that exposure to “scrubbing according to the gospel of Mama and Pauline” would have found its way into my cleaning habits. Wrong. Which way does a dust cloth go again?

This may sound very far-fetched, but I swear, it's the truth. Aunt Pauline would scrub not only her driveway, but also the street in front of her house so that dirt and filth wouldn't be tracked into her home. The irony of all this is that her children were rather sickly, probably because their little bodies never built up immunity toward germs. But some of my other cousins were as healthy as hogs and I suspect that's because their mother, my Aunt Jo, lined her cupboards with a newspaper dated 1945, and in 1978 it was still stuck to the shelves. What does that tell you? Maybe she too was my kind of gal.

We must accept who and what we are — no matter how disorganized that might be. So my home doesn't shine all the time, but I feel like God lives here, too, and never once has He complained? Now that's my kind of houseguest — for life!

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