The chore that got away: Column
Growing up, we always joked that my mom kept her house so clean it was like living in a museum dedicated to displaying the lives of middle-class Appalachians. If she could have pulled it off, you wouldn’t have been able to tell anyone actually lived in the house — it would just look like a showcase from top to bottom, always ready for a walk-through from visitors (after they’d taken their shoes off first), and nary a cushion out of place.
Unfortunately for Terri, she married a man who loved stuff and having stuff out, and then raised at least one child who also likes her stuff in arm’s reach. And when I was younger, she was pretty tolerant, because she could always just shut the door and pretend that mountain of My Little Ponys, Care Bears and Rainbow Brite toys sitting amongst a billion stuffed animals and books in a heap on my bedroom floor just didn’t exist. And when Dad’s love of fly-fishing stuff threatened to overtake us all, she let him build a separate man cave across the pond at our house where he could live his best pack-rat life and she wouldn’t have to see it or clean up after it. And honestly, I think man caves would save most marriages; it probably did theirs.
But she didn’t keep our house sparkling on her own. See my parents were of the old-school thought that children should have an equal hand in the care of the house, so from an early age, I was given age and height-appropriate chores, which is to say that as soon as I was tall enough to see into the sink, I was washing dishes.
That was my main chore — washing dishes. I have permanent dishpan hands from years of roasting-hot water, steel wool and rough dishcloths. I know well that icky feeling that happens when you leave a pan to soak in the sink overnight, and you have to feel around that cold, disgusting water for the drain plug. I know the radiant joy that comes from someone saying “I’ll get the dishes tonight,” because it feels like you’ve been released from a prison of yuck for an evening. When my niece and nephew ask me what life was like for an Xennial in rural Appalachia, I’m going to tell them about their grandma remodeling her house and having the opportunity to put in a mechanical dishwasher, but instead choosing to keep the human one she already had, and how I suffered for it.
So you’d think, having read between the lines, that I don’t care for dishwashing, that it would be the chore I avoid like the plague, but I live by myself, so if I want clean spoons, then it's up to me to wash them. It's somehow not so bad now: Probably because I cook for one, not a whole family, so the mess and dishes are minimal. I can go quite a few days before I absolutely have to wash dishes (the time between washings determined exclusively by how many clean spoons or knives I have). I put on an audiobook, get happily elbow-deed in foamy Dawn soap and before I know it, I’m done.
And while I still like my stuff, my books, my music, my laptop, that kind of thing, within sight and within reach, I keep a fairly tidy house. My books and movies are on shelves, my painting supplies are organized, I vacuum a lot (especially as I’m currently in a battle with basement millipedes, if anyone has any extermination suggestions there), and I do enjoy the looks of a clean bathroom, dusted furniture and fluffed pillows. My windows, on the other hand ...
So I’ve told you I live in an A-frame house, which, for those of you who can’t be bothered with Google, are houses that are primarily characterized by the front of the house being made completely of glass with wood beams holding the panes. It’s the quintessential kind of house for West Virginia, because you get the great views of the outdoors, and there are ledges for cardinals and other birds to sit on. The big windows aren’t the problem — other than the occasional bird mishap, they stay in pretty good shape.
But it’s the downstairs windows that have always been my foes, and there’s no reason for it. They are just standard windows that are near-exactly my height, so no ladder needed to reach them. I usually have Windex and paper towels, so it's not like I’m without the tools to clean them. And these are not out-of-the-way windows that I never look at: They’re on the front of the house on the sunroom leading to the driveway, so I literally have to walk by them twice a day. So I could clearly see that over the last few years, they had become a home for spiderwebs, dirt spots and a feral cat’s paw prints (and that cat apparently loves mud).
I just could not get myself motivated to clean them. Just couldn’t do it. Sometimes I’d get home earlier than normal from work and say “Tonight’s the night.” And then it never turned out to be the night, or weekend, or holiday. The house inside would look great, but the windows looked like I was taking the house muddin’ out on the backroads on a regular basis.
As you can imagine, it made my neat-freak mother insane every time she’d drop by the house, because she knew just as well as I did that it wouldn’t take any time or effort to clean them, and she knew I wasn’t lazy — I just didn’t want to do it, so I wasn’t making time to do it. She’d try guilting me, shaming me and threatening me, and nothing worked. She’d drop in for her packages and a visit, look at my dirty windows and just shake her head in amazement, like she couldn’t believe she raised a child who could just pass by such filth and not do a thing about it.
And finally, she just gave up and got me a present: The services of our favorite window cleaners out of Poca, W.Va. — Pro-Clean. We just love them. Besides being super nice, they don’t have issues with dogs, they show up on time and in just about any kind of weather, they can handle huge A-frame style windows, and they do an amazing job. They have done the windows of every house we’ve ever had, plus our wedding barn, and they even dust the world’s most useless ceiling fan (my upstairs fan, which as far as I can tell, just makes noise and shoves hot air around). You leave the house unlocked in the morning, and you come home in the evening to near-blinding golden hour light coming through your spotless windows. It's enough to make even the world’s messiest human being weep.
So now I have sparkling clean windows, and I’m promising myself I’m going to keep them that way. I’ve stocked up on new Windex and have purchased lint-free cloths. I may even store those supplies in the sunroom, so I have even fewer excuses for not taking 15 minutes out of my month to shine up the glass. I want to show my sincere appreciation for my mother’s gift by taking better care of the windows I can reach, and thereby not abhor the Pro-Clean people when they show up to do the ones I can’t.
I may not always start a cleaning job, but I am pretty okay at maintaining an existing one. And if I don’t let this particular chore get away from me, then that’ll open that slot for some other cleaning project I don’t want to do, because I’ve learned my lesson well: If I don’t clean something for long enough, Terri will find someone who will. Or she’ll guilt me to death for not doing it. It’s a 50/50 shot, but you know, I like my chances.