Friday, May 22, 2009

Judy Mohrman is an Undercover Domestic Diva

Whenever I read a historical novel or talk to my grandmother, I thank my lucky stars that I was born in the Seventies. Not only did I grow up with orange shag carpet and avocado counter tops, I also dodged a serious bullet: genuine housewife drudgery.

My grandmother would tell me tales of heating the iron, starching the collars, and boiling the water on laundry day---a hot, sweaty ordeal that took a good eight hours. Instead of Tide-to-Go, my grandmother and her contemporaries used lye soap. It often caused blisters and raw, chapped hands. This was not that long ago, people.

My grandmother darned socks, polished kettles, cooked meals, washed windows, and scrubbed everything---as she was expected. She did all this without special cleansers or the miracle of the Magic Eraser. Just elbow grease and persistence.

Fast forward to 1975. I was born to a mother who had read Betty Frieden and dressed me in gender-neutral overalls. She stayed at home, and kept a tidy home, but I don't recall her being a clean freak. My brother and I had chores---cleaning our rooms, Windexing the sliding glass door, sweeping, unloading the dishwasher--and while annoying, it was not backbreaking. I certainly don't remember Mom sitting me down and teaching me the secrets of good housekeeping. The message I learned was: Clean your house so you don't live in filth. End of story.

I didn't learn until I had my own home that my mother was a covert expert in all thing domestic. I would call her up, complaining about a stubborn stain and she would spout off some magical concoction involving vinegar and baking soda. She was full of 'em. Before I had my own home, I didn't know that refrigerators and ovens needed to be cleaned. I learned that baseboards gathered dust over time. Ceiling fans did not clean themselves.

How did I miss all this crucial information?

True story: after Owen was born, Mom came out to help me. Since newborns sleep a lot, Mom did all sorts of cleaning jobs to occupy herself. She made some vile brew in her Cauldron of Cleanliness one afternoon, and started working on a black spot on the stove top.

"Don't bother," I said, "that's not a spot, just an big paint chip. I've tried already to clean it off."

You can see where this is going. By the time Mom and her goo were finished, my stove top was once again gleaming and new.

I don't know if I lack my mother's knowledge because she was aspiring to free me from the domestic drudgery of her generation, or if I was just a typical teenager that did the minimal requirements and assumed her mother was clueless.

If I was a betting woman, I would double down on option #2.

At the library, I saw a beautiful book by Martha Stewart which was all about cleaning. In one page after another of household porn, Martha demonstrated how I could have pressed, lavender-scented sheets or an oven cleaner than a typical operating room. I almost checked the book out, then stopped myself.

Why would I listen to Martha (a convicted criminal, for Pete's sake), instead of calling dear old Mom?

Besides, Mom looks much better in a poncho.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Years ago, when Lynette was visiting, I came home from work to find a sparkling new fawcet in the kitchen. "You replaced our fawcet!" I exclaimed. "No, I cleaned it," she countered.