Pre house cleaning
I was talking to my dad on the phone last week, and I asked him what his plans were for the weekend.
He said, “Well, I gotta clean the house, ‘cause the housekeeper’s coming on Monday.”
Despite the fact that my father lives alone in what anyone this side of Howard Hughes would call a spotless house, he was not making a joke. Nor was he making the comment as a tounge-in-cheek example of irony or post-modernism or absurdism. He was absolutely serious, and I knew that, so I didn’t bother to pursue the topic and ask any of the obvious questions (“What?” “Why?” “Huh?”). I knew all of this because it wasn’t the first time I’d heard him say it. It was closer to the 500th.
Cleaning house was a big part of growing up for me and my brother. By the time we moved out to California to live with our father, he had been a bachelor for about four years, and he’d settled into a groove of extreme tidiness. Before our arrival, we hadn’t had a whole lot of cleaning experience beyond the occasional “clean your room” orders. But we learned quickly.
My dad’s idea of a fun weekend involved cleaning things. Things that, to my obviously untrained eye, were clean already. But pointing out such details never went over well. So clean the incredibly clean house, we did.
After nearly an entire weekend of cleaning, somewhere around Wednesday Dad would start to get a little antsy about how “filthy” the house was becoming. By Friday he already was pumping us up for the upcoming weekend of cleaning, as if he were promising us a trip to Disneyland. Once my brother and I were wrestling around on the living room floor on a Thursday night, typical brother shenanigans. After a few minutes my dad couldn’t take it anymore, and he yelled, “If you have so much energy, why don’t you go and clean something?” Again, he was not trying to be funny, he was just espousing his philosophy.
It has been said that cleanliness is next to godliness, but my father’s level of cleanliness takes that idea to the next level. You could even say that it leaves godliness in the dust.
My dad remarried, and a few years later my parents had achieved a combined level of income such that they could afford to hire someone to clean our house once a week. This was a new experience for everyone. Both my dad and stepmom grew up in very economically humble, Deep South conditions, so having a housekeeper was as big a step up as it was foreign territory.
Not quite knowing how it all worked, we cleaned the house before the new housekeeper came for the first time. To do anything else just seemed rude. And it went so well that we just continued to do that. Our weekend cleaning load was reduced only slightly by the fact that someone would be coming by later in the week to clean things that were already clean. You know, kind of like we were doing.
So now, years later, my dad is still a fan of the precleaning ritual. He’s even had to let a housekeeper go recently, claiming that she wasn’t thorough enough. I can relate. It can be confusing to be told to clean something that shows no signs of needing to be cleaned. Kind of like someone pointing to an empty spot of air and telling you, “Clean that window.” A mime would know what to do, but anybody else likely would likely be perplexed.
When it came time to rebel in my college years, this is the thing I chose to rebel against. I thought for sure that filth would lead to some sort of personal freedom. But in the end it really only led to more filth. I could have seen that one coming, I suppose. I don’t live in filth anymore, but my house-cleaning habits still pale in comparison to Dad’s.
Now it’s spring, which means it’s time to give our house a good spring cleaning. My wife and I will be doing this ourselves, and I’m having a bit of a hard time getting motivated for this project. But I think I’ve come up with a solution. I’ve decided to pretend to hire someone to come and do it for me. Then, when I spend the weekend cleaning the house before their pretend arrival, it won’t actually feel like work.
Barry Smith’s column appears Mondays in The Aspen Times.
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