I’ve been thinking about my parents a lot lately. They have both been gone for over five years, so I have passed the grieving period which is filled with the craving for a hug, a laugh, or some more advice.
It’s weird what will trigger thoughts of my parents. I’m also embarrassed to admit that for me it’s the smell of cleaning products. When I smell a whiff of starch or bleach, I think of my mother. The woman was a whirling dervish as far as the domestic arts were concerned. For her, love was expressed through a spotless house and a dinner that always included dessert.
She told me that “dirty plinths signaled a lack of character.” To this day, I get on all fours and clean my baseboards with a toothbrush because apparently that’s my family heirloom. (By the way, I think that legacy will end with my kids. To this day, they have both shown no interest in the art of scrubbing baseboards with an Oral-B toothbrush.)
I know this devotion to cleanliness was passed down from my grandmother and is rooted in life in a coal mining community in West Virginia. My mother told me that women fight to keep coal dust out of their homes. Apparently the ultimate status symbol was a house that belied the fact that your spouse worked in the mines.
As a child, the smell of bleach was comforting. This meant not only that my mother was at home, but also that all was well with the world.
My parents were well matched in their love of housework. My dad would spend summer weekends standing or on location (while wearing a trendy bob) in our family pool scrubbing the white part of the patio and liner with SOS pads. (Note: this predates the wonder that is the magic eraser.)
All of my friends thought it was hysterical and they loved teasing my dad about his pursuit of pool perfection. I didn’t know at the time that my father listened to everything we talked about and reported back to my mother (verbatim) about our conversations. Looking back, that explains so much about how I always felt like my parents had entered my head.
My dad was also obsessed with keeping his cars clean. Every Saturday, weather permitting, he would wash all of the station wagons by hand using special sponges and his own secret mixture of a cleaning solution that involved a touch of vinegar. Once a month he also waxed the cars and I was his faithful assistant.
The reward for being my father’s ‘crackerjack helper’ was a trip in the clean car to the gas station down the road for an Orange Crush where we would toast the glass bottles and toast. our hard work. Today, the slightest smell of Turtle Wax makes me smile.
Fortunately, my father’s spirit lives in my son. He is passionate about cleaning cars. Every time I see him polishing his cars, I tell him that he is the pride of his grandfather. He even makes me happy and doesn’t seem to care when I put my whole face in his can of car wax.
Last weekend I went out and refreshed my cache of cleaning supplies. When I walked in with bleach, SOS pads, new sponges, window cleaner, paste wax, and a host of other scouring products, my husband looked at me and asked if I was planning to start a concierge service.
I told her no and confessed that I just missed my parents and needed to feel them again. Then I started to clean. Starting of course with the baseboards.
Contact Sherry Kuehl at [email protected], on Facebook at Snarky in the Suburbs, on Twitter at @snarkynsuburbs on Instagram @ snarky.in.the.suburbs, and snarkyinthesuburbs.com.