all of the selves we Have ever been
On Fourth Down
A neighbor stops in: “Oh, your house is so clean!”
At my stage of life, which is just inches from the grave, I can’t risk the threat of eternal damnation by being a fraud: “Well, there’s order, but I wouldn’t say it’s clean. That’s not sheers on the windows.” I survey the rest of the room eyeing dust on the shelves so thick that it looks like starched doilies.
I grew up in an era when an entire multi-generational family was judged by the quality of one woman’s housekeeping. In those years, my neighbor would not have gotten past the front door. My mother would rather have been seen in the shopping mall with curlers in her hair than to let an outsider see our dingy windows and dusty shelves.
Hence, housework became my default occupation. I never applied for the job. I was drafted against my will by virtue of being a kid, a girl-kid, and living in a house. There was no lingering suspense to the draft process. There was no multi-million dollar contract, not even an allowance! I was not offered a name-and-likeness-deal. I did not even get a t-shirt with my favorite number. Once a baby girl could stand on two feet and hold a soft rag, she was signed up. I didn’t get to choose my team, otherwise, I would have picked Agnes’s house down the street where the rooms were arranged like art exhibits. All of the furniture was covered in plastic and no one was allowed to enter those museum-like spaces.
Saturdays were game days all over America. While most of us lived in smaller homes back then, about 1100 square feet, every inch was crammed with people—six in our house, along with a dog and a couple of neighbor kids who appeared to be orphaned. Despite the crowd, there was only one bathroom which was also typical of that era. Every space was over-crowded and over-used. To do a good cleaning meant every piece of furniture and every stationary person had to be moved down the field, cleaned, and returned to the starting line. One of the younger kids was constantly being displaced on cleaning day, chased from one room to another. They were out of bounds wherever they landed.
Of course, the work-out didn’t end when I got my own place. By then, I was well conditioned, hooked on Spic ‘n Span, and a psychological prisoner of the vacuum cleaner. A weekend could not go by without a darkened dust cloth and the smell of lemon Pledge. As a mother, the duties expanded exponentially.
Now with the children grown and out of the house and full time employment behind me, I am getting out of the inside game. I will give housework 15 minutes at a time. That’s my limit. Even young, hefty, well-conditioned football players get a pause every fifteen minutes, and so I head to the bench for a water break, to nurse my injuries, talk with my team mates, connect with the audience, and see how things look on TV.
Between games I’m happy to study the play books. I‘ve got a stack of House Beautiful magazines. I consider them a kind of pornography for the housekeeping derelict. It all looks slick, salacious, and out of my league. I am convinced that it must be illegal.
It’s a new season. Here on the fourth down of the final quarter, I punt.
Let a new team carry the dirtball.
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