Thursday, April 22, 2010

House Work, Then and Now

SAN DIEGO – This past weekend in the Southwest corner, I started working on cleaning out the garage while my wife’s attention centered on our version of spring cleaning.

Sometimes I believe, at least subliminally, garage cleaning is an avoidance ploy to escape spring cleaning.

Cleaning the garage is never complete, which means the other spring cleaning – now called “deep cleaning” – is done by Maureen or hired help. Saturday, when the hired help didn’t show, Maureen cleaned about one-third of the windows on our house.

Even my garage cleaning had been postponed for a required golf round. I was sheepishly ashamed when I returned to find how she had spent her Saturday. I would – really, I would – have sacrificed the golf and the garage cleaning to clean the windows.

My feeble excuses recalled a time when there was no excuse for missing spring cleaning.

Tasks for Home

Growing up, my mother would assign my spring cleaning tasks, which was nearly all of them. I knew every nook and cranny of our Castle Heights Avenue home.

I stripped and waxed the wood floors, and all were wood except for the kitchen until living and dining room carpets were installed and the den was added in the back. I washed windows. I cleaned out the basement. This was on top of the sibling shared chores of mowing, hedge trimming, dusting, vacuuming, and dishwashing.

Of course, my youthful chores were a mere dip in the bucket of soapy water compared to my parents’ contribution. They grew up working and have never stopped.

My mother cooked, cleaned, and got a penny for every housefly she swatted to a quick and merciful death.

An aside: I wonder if cotton wads plugged the holes in the screens of their homestead on the North Cumberland farm like those at my great uncle’s house on Hickory Ridge in my youth.

My father performed home chores as well as helping my grandfather, including stoking the boiler of the portable sawmill when he was six.

It seems pretty much everyone in that generation grew up doing manual labor and home chores. Just last week, my father and mother (a reminder: they are 95 and 92) picked out flowers and worked the flower beds around their home in Deer Park. My father washes the dishes, cleans and mops the floor, and fixes anything which needs it.

Ship Tasks

When I reported to my first ship, I was greeted with a whole new concept of cleaning. We had about six stewards on my first ship. They were mostly native Filipinos who, at that time, were not allowed to serve in combat ratings. There job was to do chores for the officers.

They cooked and cleaned the dishes. They woke us up in the morning and made our racks (beds). They cleaned our staterooms and the wardroom. They did all of our grocery shopping, and they even cleaned our shoes.

I got used to it. I even explained it as practical by telling folks it gave me time to do the myriad of leadership and combat tasks, including watch standing. Of course, I never mentioned the 300 enlisted crew members still had to perform their cleaning chores as well as their work-related tasks.

The steward rating was discontinued in 1974. Officers now have to do their own personal chores.

Satisfying Tasks

But my parents raised me well. I actually missed the daily (and deep cleaning) chores while on ships. Ashore, I reverted to my old working ways (in spite of the subliminal evasions).

I am not so sure I have given my children the same appreciation of chores.

If there is one thing which causes me concern about our follow-on generations is working hard on home chores has pretty much disappeared. Perhaps this was just me, a doting and often absent father of two beautiful girls. But it seems today’s children are much more into being entertained with television and video games, and are not plugged into real housework.

Yet when I visit my older daughter, she and husband have evolved into real workers. They clean, wash, mow, tend to the yard, plant, deep clean, and even have done major home makeovers by themselves. It seems they actually enjoy those chores.

I am glad. Except for missing this past weekend’s window washing, I find a sense of satisfaction in doing chores around the house.

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