I’ve heard women say, in tones of dread, “Oh, no, I’m becoming my mother.” To be fair to everyone’s mom, I assume some women are quietly proud of growing into some resemblance of their female parents. I have never had that fear or ambition. My mother and I have always been quite different individuals, and we remain so after sixty years. We share genetics, and some oddball characteristics, but I never see a ghost of her in myself.
However, lately, as I fuss around my house, hating the flies, chasing the endless dirt with a neurotic vengeance, I feel possessed by the spirit of my grandmother, Virginia Robb, whose life work was keeping her 1920’s Sears kit house in perfect order. She was a little churchy woman, who always wore dresses, with stockings. My new weekly vacuuming habit, which seems excessive to me, wouldn’t be up to her standards, and despite the dishwasher, I don’t wash every single item used for meals after every single meal. But, incredibly, day after day, the sink is clean and everything is put away at least once a day. Persons reading this who ever shared a house with me are permitted to either laugh or gasp in disbelief at this point.
Growing up, I don’t remember our home being dirty, nor do I remember my mother cleaning it. She did her work while we were at school and never tried to instill any houseproud skills in her daughters. Perhaps it was the times, the gnawing of feminism in the crawl space, or her own attitude toward the fuss of cleaning. She was definitely married to my father, not their house. The houses I grew up in were conspicuously uncluttered, which made cleaning easier. Only recently have I realized that another way of defining that would be that our home wasn’t “decorated” in the usual female fashion. No art, no knickknacks, nothing cute. The annual concession to Christmas was one string of lights and the tree, both put up the weekend before Christmas and shoved away again promptly on New Years Day.
My mother and I have been living together for six years. We have what a bachelor friend has tagged as a “relaxed” attitude toward housekeeping. I pile things up and she’s become somewhat grimy in her dotage. It was getting a bit out of hand. During her recent hospitalization and time at the nursing home, I caught my grandma bug and did a huge sixth year spring cleaning, with some help from some friends. Scrubbed carpets, washed windows, re-arranged cupboards, painted a wall. Threw out bags of old food and put out boxes of stuff for charity. We no longer have six can openers, though I noticed this morning we still have two pizza cutters. One must go.
Am I finally discovering some true clean-freak part of myself, or is this just a phase? Living with a medically fragile person certainly ups the ante on germ prevention. I like my house. We’ll see how it goes; meanwhile I have flies to chase.