22
May
07

My House is Never Clean

I don’t keep our house that clean. There are no beer cans or pizza boxes under the sofa or anything, but unless company is coming (and often even as they are walking through the door) the hard surfaces of our case goods typically are softened by a thin, gauzy layer of dust. And Claire sheds enough hair each week to fill a mattress. Who can keep up? A lot of folks could.  But so far, not me.

It’s not my mom’s fault. I grew up in a spotless home. When mom got too busy to clean it herself she hired the best people in town to do it for her. My mom is much beloved wherever she goes, but she is known for her exacting standards when it comes to cleaning, to the point that one woman left a note after her morning’s work that said, “I obviously can’t please you, so I won’t be back next week.” My mom read the note to me remarking with a sigh as she threw it in the trash can, “I don’t know how someone who won’t remove a cobweb big enough to strangle an elephant ever expects to make a living cleaning houses.” My mother exaggerated. Spiders spun webs from the tops of trees in Batesville to avoid her brooms. I doubt an inch of thread left an arachnid behind in our house before the offending spider was pummeled into its next plane of existence.

Mom eventually found a winner in Shirley. She was my favorite of the women who cleaned our house. Wiry, short and kind of loud, Shirley wore hot pink or baby blue velour jogging suits to clean in. She had hair like Liza Manelli’s only a little longer. It was actually a fe-mullet.

Mom left a pot of strong coffee on for Shirley to drink on the mornings she cleaned. She would always put whatever knick knack she inevitably broke as she rocketed around the house on the bar with a sweet and apologetic note, “Katy, so sorry!!”

Destructive as Shirley was, she cleaned a mean house and my mom knew that a few broken object d’arts was a small price to pay to keep her on. Accidents aside, Shirley took a lot of pride in her work. And she cleaned for every house in our neighborhood. Except for one. One day mom got a frantic phone call from Donna Ruth Arnold, the construction contractor who lived down the street from us.

“Katy, have you seen Shirley?”

“No, why?”

“Well, she just beat the hell out of Susie Cato.”

I never got Susie’s side of the story. Talk was that she was one of Shirley’s customers until Susie made a snide and disparaging remark about her work, with which Shirley evidently disagreed. So right there in Susie’s doorway Shirley let her fists do the talking.

I found Shirley to be completely friendly and supportive. Once my name was in our local paper because I participated in a mock trial at high school, sort of a theatrical civics lesson. In the story, my character was picked up for school by another guy who had drugs under his seat. Pulled over for speeding, my friend was arrested for possession. My guilt by association was questioned in the trial.

The paper made clear that the trial was fake, but this fact was still lost on Shirley. So when I came downstairs one morning on one of her cleaning days not long after the article appeared, she said,

“Well, I read in the paper you got into a little trouble.”

I realized she was referring to the mock trial. I thought she was just having some fun. “Yeah, kind of embarrassing to be on trial in front of the whole school,” I said.

“We all make mistakes. Was your momma and daddy mad?” It occurred to me that she didn’t realize the trial was staged.

“You know, Shirley, that was a fake trial.”

“I know, sometime it’s like they’re cut and dried. The important thing is that you learned from what ya done.”

“No, it was a pretend trial to show the school what a real trial is like.”

“We don’t have to talk about it. But, listen, if you ever need anything, you let me know. Don’t be afraid to call me. I know you’re a good kid. You’re momma and daddy raised you right. You gotta watch who you hang out with though.”

Finally, I just said,“Ok. Thanks.”

Where is Shirley now that I need her?

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6 Responses to “My House is Never Clean”


  1. May 22, 2007 at 2:06 pm

    I remember Shirley – We were staying at your parents’ house when it was her day to clean and we had very specific instructions from Ms. Katy to stay out of Shirley’s way.

    Sandra Clark used to clean our house and she broke something pretty much every time. Her apology notes were so entertaining. One time she promised to make us chocolate chip cookies to make up for whatever she broke – Her cookies were really good. She said the key was to not melt the butter – it should just be softened. I miss Sandra.

  2. May 23, 2007 at 2:07 pm

    Troy, you big druggy!
    Absohighlarious.
    D.

  3. May 23, 2007 at 4:14 pm

    The only housekeeper’s name that I remember growing up was Lula. I remember my Mom had to go pick Miss Lula up. We always had housekeepers, is that a southern thing?

  4. May 23, 2007 at 5:26 pm

    Maybe Sally. But I do know some folks up here who wouldn’t be able to live without someone to help. I think I may be heading this way myself.

  5. May 23, 2007 at 6:28 pm

    Me too! My Mom never really took a liking to cleaning house and boy did it rub off on me. Any cleaning can be directly related to Mr. Carl. Well, you saw my office…

  6. 6 anonymous
    August 21, 2008 at 5:47 am

    wow, it must be nice to have enough money to afford a housekeeper.


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