‘Out, damned spot! out, I say!’

I clean the house a fair bit. The country is very dirty, which you might not expect if you don’t live in it. I’ll admit to cleaning a fair bit, but it’s nothing obsessive. If I were obsessive, the house would be a lot cleaner. My partner in grime (laundry is her vocation) refers to me as Lady Macbeth, but I doubt that Lady Mac ever cleaned anything, except one spot of blood—and boy, did she make a fuss!

While vacuuming, I ponder the past and think of the future; I think about what I’m writing while wrestling with the hose, the machine, the attachments. We had my Irish grandmother’s Electrolux for decades—long enough to replace the motor two or three times. The entire machine was metal. Except for the motor, nothing wore out, nothing rusted or broke, but its weight signed its death warrant. We traded it in for a series of plastic jobs that broke instantly. We’ve returned to Electrolux, which is plastic now, but a good machine.

Not good enough, though. With the technological advances we’ve seen, nothing really helps with cleaning (please don’t write to me about Roomba). Most of it is hard on the back and knees. Canister vacuums fall down the stairs half way up, and it seems a bit odd to buy the backpack vacuums available for one set of stairs (plus we don’t have much storage space).

Still, when I’ve cleaned I feel like I’ve done my bit to beat back the ever-increasing entropy in the universe. Vanquishing some small portion of the chaos that is a mélange of gnats, grass, pebbles, spider webs, leaves, dog hair, mud, dust, and other country detritus (this in a house where we take our shoes off at the door!).

However fleeting, order brings peace.

My Irish grandmother was a serious cleaner, one of a higher order. In addition to wielding her Electrolux, she scrubbed with stiff brushes in pools of Clorox. Her strength was formidable and she could scrub the life out of a floor, a pot, a shirt or a toddler in the sink. When not cleaning, redecorating or cooking for her husband and three children, she also held a paying job as a housekeeper, working for the married hosts of a popular radio and TV talk show (Tex and Jinx—you can Google them). If she was lucky to make the express train at 59th in Brooklyn, the trip into Manhattan and their apartment took at least an hour. I assume that she cleaned for the couple and their two children, but like many women of her generation and class, she could do just about anything in what were known as the domestic arts (knit, crochet, sew, upholster). I don’t imagine anyone hired her as a cook, but she was an honest cook of plain food and an excellent baker.

While I do not have my grandmother’s strength, and I don’t use bleach, I can ferret out dusty baseboards at fifty feet, specks of spaghetti sauce on the stove, when the wainscoting is in need of attention.

As for blood, we’ve yet to commit a murder on the premises, but with the blood spattering common to murder mysteries, I doubt if one spot will send us over the edge.

I am not the housekeeper my grandmother was, but I think I would have been an excellent housekeeper in a large house of old—think Helen Mirren in Gosford Park, or Phyllis Logan in Downton Abbey—but with better sherry, a better outfit and more of a private life, or a private life (don’t write to me about Carson, please). A leader of women and men, all scouring the wainscoting, scrubbing the pots, cleaning everything, down to the last damned spot.

5 thoughts on “‘Out, damned spot! out, I say!’

  1. This was a quote from a decades-old NYT interview with Quentin Crisp. The reporter was apparently unsettled by Crisp’s Greenwich Village apartment (although the UK Independent recalls a Lower East Side place – either works). It was filthy. Crisp noticed the reporter’s clear discomfort and explained, “There is no need to do any housework at all. After the first four years the dirt doesn’t get any worse.”

    My advice: give up while you still can!

  2. Tex and Jinx? You are practically related to Tex and Jinx? My husband and I fancy ourselves Tex and Jinx sharing snappy reparte and deep philosophical thoughts over our breakfast coffee, as we snap the newspaper and complain about the government. Peter B. has suggested that we are ready for our local radio station, but we have had no offers.

    1. Mmmm, well I don’t remember when Grandma worked for the McCrearys, but my mother told me she did. I don’t remember them either, though of course I know the names and of the show. However, the local stations are nuts to pass you two up!

    1. I’m pleased the family stories make you feel that way! I’ll try to keep them coming. I seem to remember things long forgotten when I wind my way down some of these posts.

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