I wasn't trained in housework. "Why?" you ask. "How can a young woman not be trained in housework?" My husband has been asking that question for over 30 years. My mother taught me many things, but housework wasn't one of them. Although our apartment was always impeccable, my mother had other priorities. A lovely woman named Leona came over every week to clean the apartment and do the ironing.
Housework wasn't required of me, so I didn't learn it. Of course, I helped wash and dry the supper dishes, and I took the garbage down the hall to the incinerator. I often hung the wash on the clotheslines on the roof and brought it in when it was dry. In winter the sheets and towels were rigid and smelled like icicles and New York soot. Sometimes I dusted and ran the carpet sweeper, but I never learned how to clean a house.
What did I do? I read a lot and wrote stories and poems. I had a tape recorder (newfangled for a ten-year-old in the fifties), and I did "radio shows" with my friends and my little sister, the natural comedian. I played on the school playground and roller-skated around the neighborhood, skate-key on a string around my neck, until the street lights came on. And when my father was home, I sat at his feet and listened to his stories and lessons. So that's why I never learned to mop a floor or clean a toilet or scour a bathtub. My mom did the daily maintenance, and then she was busy with projects and volunteer work, mah jongg and shopping. That's what she taught me, in a nutshell.
My husband taught me to clean a house. (Everyone say, "Bless his heart.") My husband's mother required it of her children -- son and daughter -- and I must say they're two of the most capable and industrious people I've ever known. My hat's off to my mother-in-law. She knew how to leverage chores into character.
So, why do I love housework? I love housework because putting my house in order and making it shine grounds me. It's a way to quiet my mind and focus on physical tasks that bring, at their completion, a sense of peace and wholeness. A clean house feels good. I love housework because there's a memory attached to every photograph I dust and every bathtub I scrub. Memories from years ago and memories from last weekend. The family gatherings and the laughs. The little boys that were, and the new baby girl.
It's a pleasure to keep house, even though it's not my full-time occupation. Like my mother, I have many other priorities. But housework -- necessary and ever-present -- never fails to satisfy. It pleases me to think that all over Alabama, young people are still being raised in the fine tradition of chores that my mother-in-law taught to her children. Not to say that I fault my mother for this gap in my education. It was fine with me. And every time I find that impossible bargain dress or pair of shoes, I tip my hat to the woman who taught me the finer points of dressing well on a budget.
I'm just glad I learned to love housework, too.