When I was a young girl spring brought a massive cleaning effort in our home. My mother would engage our youthful energy in days of tackling every nook and cranny of the house. She’d issue bucket of sudsy water and old rags showing us how to wash every baseboard and how to insure that we reached every square inch of the walls. We revelled in seeing the dirty refuse as we poured our cleaning down the toilet and refilled our containers with a clean batch of water for the next attack on grime.
Everything came out of the closets and the drawers and anything that was no longer of use went inside paper bags from the grocery store to be handed down to a family member or friend or to be donated to the St. Vincent de Paul Society. We laundered the curtains that hung over the windows and hung them on the clothesline to dry in the sun. Perhaps the most taxing job of all was carefully cleaning each slat of the venetian blinds until they gleamed like new.
We’d scrub the grout of the tile with old toothbrushes and put new shelf paper in the cabinets. Mama created a mending pile and spent evenings with a needle and thread making sure that every seam and button on our clothing was once again secure. As a finale she waxed the floors until they were shining with a warm patina.
Our efforts took many days but we always felt a sense of pride and accomplishment once we were done. Mama made housekeeping seem fun by playing recordings of symphonies on our Victrola, an old 45 rpm record player, while we worked. She made special meals as rewards for our hard work and praised us if we passed her inspections. She had high standards when it came to spiffing up our home and we did our best to meet them.
Somehow I have very fond memories of spring cleaning when me and my mother and brothers joined together to keep our home in tip top shape. My thoughts of those days are so pleasant that I still feel a sense of joy whenever I engage in a deep cleaning of my own home. I enjoy the process of repairing things, organizing, restoring. As someone who prefers to be in control of my situation cleaning offers me the reward of instant gratification. In the midst of confusion and chaos cleaning soothes my soul. I’ve used it time and again as a panacea for my anxieties.
A long day of physical labor around the house may strain my back or wrinkle my hands but it sends thousands of happy messages whirring inside my brain. Somehow the simple act of putting my home in order helps me to temporarily forget any cares or woes that I may have. Now that threats of Covid 19 have literally changed the normal functioning of the world I have filled my bucket and tackled the nooks and crannies of my house just as I did when I was a little girl. The regimen that I learned from my mother back then has become a kind of gift and a way of getting away from the worries and fears that seem to dominate daily life these days.
I have used the old ways that helped me to feel more secure when the world felt so uncertain after my father’s death. I find solace in reading, praying, reaching out to others, and cleaning. We all need to feel a sense of dominion over our circumstances and when all of the things that we normally do suddenly change it helps to find activities that bring comfort and occupy the mind. For me that has meant keeping to a schedule and accomplishing something each day.
I am one of those souls over seventy that the whole world seems intent on protecting. We are supposed to stay home or at least limit our contact with others as much as possible. The young folk in my life are being so lovely. They want to comfort and help me. I am moved by their gestures of love and concern. I am obediently following the guidelines for people in my age group. It will be the younger generation who will have to deal with people like me if we get sick in large numbers. It will tax their energy and maybe even their futures. I want to do my part to cooperate in the efforts to win the battle against this virus, and so I stay home and I clean.
It my be many weeks before I am once again free to travel and enjoy the freedoms that retirement has brought me. I’ll eventually run out of things to scrub but I have other ideas to keep me occupied. I have students to teach which means I have lessons to plan. My garden will fill with weeds unless I tend to it. I will cook my quarantine meals like beans and soups. I may even put together some puzzles or spoil myself with some binge watching of television.
I’ve learned that even bad things eventually pass and that I am strong and resilient when I need to be. I believe in the goodness of all humans and I am certain that together we will do whatever we have to do. If the good people of London were able to endure fifty nine straight days of bombing during World War II then surely I can stay inside my home as much as possible until the danger passes. If the citizens of Italy can still sing in the face of grave illness and death then surely I can turn on the music like my mother once did and celebrate the good and the blessings that I have while I wait out this virus.