RAMBLINGS • I Am Not By Nature A Cleaner


Sometimes it’s easier to discover who one is, and thus come to an understanding of himself, by first telling what one is not. When I know myself well, I can take steps to rectify  problem areas.

I am not by nature a cleaner. My mom, my roommates in dorm rooms on two college campuses, and poor Judy and our daughters would willingly attest to that. Some students I knew at Warren Wilson College and Berea disliked dorm life with its communal showers and bathrooms, but it suited me well. If there was a closet, a bed, a dresser, a desk and a chair, I was happy–meals prepared in the cafeteria by others were better, both tastewise and nutrionwise, than I would do for myself. WWC even provided laundry service through the work program. My dirty clothes would pile up for a week, then they would go into the bag to be carried to the laundry center to be picked up the next day. Cleaning crews were responsible for bathroom clean-up.

Could I clean? Sometimes circumstances forced it. We didn’t have a milking parlor on our dairy farm as I labored there in my formative years; instead in early November the milking cows were locked into stanchions, a row of 20. Dad and I carried corn silage to them, then covered it with chop (chopped grain) at milking time (6 a.m. and 6 p.m. were the norms). Hay was in front of them between milkings, and each had her own automated water cup.

Between early November and mid-April, the manure and urine they produced landed in a concrete gutter behind them. More modern farmers had an automated gutter cleaning system that carried the waste to a pile outside the building, but not we. I was the system.

From the time I was 12, I’d have a pitchfork and/or scoop in my hands; I’d start at the west end of the gutter (the manure spreader was parked in a large box stall behind the cows on the west end) to throw the waste products in the spreader. It took less than half an hour, morning and evening to clean the gutter and spread lime in it. When the spreader was full–usually every other day–we’d hook the Allis Chalmers we had to it and spread the load as fertilizer on a nearby field. (In mid-winter I always chose the closest field).

I know I’ll be in trouble for this next paragraph, but–cleaning the gutter was man’s work. Neither my mother or sister ever had to do it, and that was one of my justifications for not doing tasks in the house. My dad didn’t cook or clean–he didn’t know how, as my sister and I discovered when he was in charge of preparing meals when mom went to the hospital to give birth to our brother Dale. I didn’t mind cleaning the barn either; I’ve known young men in my teaching career who would have benefitted emotionally (perhaps spiritually) from that particular chore. Admittedly, I’ve also known some who thought I was still shoveling manure when I taught.

Although I didn’t particularly enjoy it, I also became pretty adept at cleaning cars when I worked in service stations. The demand seemed huge after country roads were oiled or on Saturdays when proms were scheduled for that night. I suspect there weren’t many automated carwashes around in the mid 1960s, and they wouldn’t remove road oil anyway.

Judy, as did most girls in the 1950s, grew up in less than a liberated household. I had many a meal in their dining room; I’d bet money that neither her brother or her father helped prepare the meal, though her dad definitely provided the money that bought the grub. Her mom’s fried chicken was to be prized;  Colonel Sanders, whose franchises started appearing then, couldn’t compare. I point that out because Judy knew what culture expected when she agreed to marry me; 1966 was pre-liberation era, at least in rural PA.

She and I handled the transformation fairly well in our married life because mostly we ignored it. I wore blinders, I suppose, and she followed the examples set by her mother and sisters. We had our moments, though. For the first two years she as a teacher was the primary bread winner while I went to school and made what I could here and there. I honestly felt guilty because I wasn’t doing my job, but not once did I volunteer to do dishes or laundry or to clean. I did keep the yard mowed, though. When we talked about roles, she said I was being silly, that once I graduated from Blackburn and found a good job, she would stay home “surrounded by our kids” and my wounded pride could heal.

It didn’t work that way, although we tried. We bought our small farm while she was carrying Dawn, and Jenni was born not quite two years later. Janna was born prematurely two years after that; when we lost her, Judy decided to resign as a teacher to spend time with Dawn and Jenni. I agreed; she was hurting and I thought I could support the four of us. If not, she’d have had time to heal spiritually and could return to teaching.

That didn’t work either. We chose to come back to live in Hillsboro; our house, the one I still live in, didn’t cost much, but it gave us two mortgages to pay off as interest rates soared to 17 percent. We also lost another child, Brandon, who was born four months prematurely, so there were medical bills piled on top. Dr. Bill advised not trying to have more children.

I found relief in the girls and Judy, but I also found relief in working, filling up as many non-school hours as I could at The Journal and by teaching summer school English at the high school for kids who needed an English credit to graduate and/or for a government program (JTPL) through the ERO office uptown. Still, I couldn’t pay all the bills, so Judy volunteered to go back to work. She cried, and those tears hurt me, because we both knew I couldn’t do it all, and because the rules of the world our parents knew no longer applied.

The superintendent at the time kept her from regaining a teaching job, not because she hadn’t been good before or wasn’t qualified, but because he didn’t like some truths I’d spoken to him concerning his qualities as a leader. I was rather well-known for disparaging thoughts about school administrators and school board members, and those thoughts began long before our more recent skirmishes about basketball coaching jobs. That’s another rant waiting in my pen.

However, the Coffeen power station was beginning a computer-based inventory of parts, and she was offered that job. She made good friends while she worked there; when that project ended several years later, she moved to an office job at Putnam-Wright Ford. Again she enjoyed the work and made good friends; she was adaptable. She was there when the diagnosis of breast cancer came, but they kept her on so we wouldn’t lose health insurance benefits. After that, I wouldn’t buy a vehicle from anyone else as long as they were in business.

While she worked at CIPS and Putnam-Wright, Dawn and Jenni grew into her help-mates as far as household chores were concerned. I don’t know how willing they were, but I knew enough about Judy to know she would brook no nonsense from them as far as doing chores. She learned to do laundry, wash dishes, cook, and clean under her mom’s eye, and she had enough of her dad’s stubbornness in her to not tolerate disobedience. I suspect the wooden spoons Judy and I later found behind the upright piano in the backroom had something to do with their discipline.

Some of Judy’s friends (particularly those in the Doers Club) tried to be a more modern influence on her. I think they pitied her because she worked and managed the house while I worked and mowed the yard. I thought that was a fair arrangement; I still think Bobby Riggs threw his infamous tennis match with Billie Jo King.

I could tell Judy became worried, though, when the cancer spread to her bones and the word terminal crept into doctors’ conversations. She wasn’t worried as much about herself as she was about what would become of me. Dawn was married and Jenni was a freshman at Illinois College; evidently I was to be alone in a house too big for one person to care for. She’d sit in the top cellar stair and tell me how to operate the washing machine with real concern emanating from her.

I’ve had a series of cleaning ladies since she passed in December of 1991, but those deals didn’t have lasting power. My schedule made arranging a time to be home for this house to be cleaned inconvenient at best; I fired the only professional cleaning service I had because the company jumped the price from $17 to $22 per hour the moment Gov. Pritzker announced minimum wage would be $15 an hour several years in the future. I could have afforded the hike as a private pay client, but I’m sure not much of the increase would have gone to the person actually doing the cleaning. I think it was the company’s attempt to charge more to the government program for those not on self-pay. Their accounting company was always suspect anyway, and I couldn’t eyeball them in Chicago with the complaints I had. The two hours their person spent here every week also didn’t allow for deep cleaning.

Now, though, I have a possible solution. My eldest granddaughter works only every other week during the ongoing pandemic. My youngest granddaughter can’t go to school, and she’s bored staying home. Beginning Monday, May 4, they spent three afternoons a week, every other week, deep-cleaning and decorating the 17 areas I’ve designated in my house–with my less-than-expert help. We’ll make this place shine again.

I’ll keep a diary so “Ramblings” readers can know how it goes.


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