A Clean Sweep

By Jeffery Cohen

When I was a young man and beginning to go out, my mother would have one question for me when I returned home from a date with a new girl. It was not, “Did you have a good time?” or “Where did you go?” or “What did you do?” My mother was only concerned about one thing. Before I even made it through the front door, my mother would meet me, stare into my eyes and ask, “Does her mother keep a clean house?”

This came from a woman who, besides cooking, raising three sons, and juggling the bills to decide who to pay first and who could wait,  prided herself in making certain that the home that we lived in was immaculate. Having everything dirt free, dust free and stain free was her aim, and although we never got to the stage of having the furniture hermetically sealed in plastic to protect it like some of my friends’ moms did, our house was spotless. “A place for everything, and everything in its place,” Mom would say as she smiled, then scooped up the jacket I had just laid across the back of a chair. After sliding it onto a hanger, wood, not metal, she’d hang it in the closet and nod with satisfaction.

On Saturday morning, my two brothers and I were recruited to help in the weekly cleaning ritual. One would be handed a rag to wipe off anything that dust had settled on in the past week. Another would be given a stack of sheets and pillowcases to change all the bedclothes. I always opted for the vacuum cleaner – a big old standup monster that roared like a lion and sucked up just about anything in sight, including your pant leg if you weren’t careful. There were always other jobs to do before we were allowed to escape to go out and play ball or fly a kite – trash to take out, a sink to scour, a floor to sweep, but the real cleaning my mother didn’t trust to anyone but herself, so she wound up washing windows, mopping the kitchen floor and polishing every piece of wood she could get her hands on.You would think that anyone growing up in nearly antiseptic surroundings would strive to live in that same sort of environment, but when I left home to go to college, I have to admit, I chose to be a little more relaxed about the “cleaning thing.” If my bed clothes didn’t get changed every week…or every other week…or every month, I didn’t worry about it. I held off dusting until I could write my name clearly on my dresser. And I can honestly say I don’t recall ever washing the floor unless I accidentally dropped a piece of pizza facedown, and even then, it was just a quick swipe with my wash cloth. I was perfectly happy to go through life easing up on house cleaning. Then I met my wife.

People say that opposites attract, and when it comes to us and cleaning house, they couldn’t be more right. If I have a choice of watching football on TV or cleaning out the garage, give me a plate of hot wings. It’s game time. If I can scrub a floor or sip lemonade under a shady tree, all I want to know is where to set my lounge chair down. Don’t get me wrong. I do my share of housework. I’ll vacuum…when I think it needs it. I’ll dust the furniture…when I think it needs it. I’ll even wash the floor…when I think it needs it. The fact is, I just don’t think it needs it all that often, but if you ask my wife, it’s a daily occurrence.

My wife loves to clean. That’s a fact. She can waltz around the kitchen with a mop and a bucket of suds and be happier than if she were dancing with Fred Astaire. The smell of an all purpose cleaner appeals to her more than the scent of Chanel number 5. Emerging from a cloud of cleanser, she is nearly euphoric. She prides herself on the extensive collection of bottles of cleaning fluids and cans of scouring powders she’s amassed, carefully arranged like a line of soldiers just waiting to make their assault on dirt, dust and bacteria of every known strain. I watch her plan her strategy, a general attack on germs, vowing to wipe out every last one. She clutches her broom by the handle; her feather duster extended forward in her other hand like a sword, ready to command an unstoppable force. Charge!

I get exhausted just watching her, but my attitude toward house cleaning has evolved. Live and let live is what I say. If my wife loves doing it, she can go right ahead, as far as I’m concerned. My only problem is, she insists on involving me in her favorite pastime, but in an ever so subtle a fashion. No sooner do I sit down to watch a favorite movie of mine, bag of chips at my side, glass of iced tea, she decides to run the vacuum cleaner so that I can’t hear a single thing except her saying, “Pick up your feet. Pick up your feet,” as she bangs the contraption into my legs so that she doesn’t miss a single spot. I bring a sandwich home from the corner deli and before I can unwrap it, she’s asking me if I’ve washed my hands, and in the same breath, she’s warning me not to drip anything on her newly waxed floor. As I’m about to take the first bite, she decides to start splashing ammonia and bleach in every direction to make sure I don’t get sick from all those nasty germs that may be waiting to jump onto my plate. What she fails to realize is, the chemicals that she is sloshing around will probably poison us both.

There are those that look at me and see Oscar Madison, and my wife, Felix Unger – the odd couple. They wonder how we ever got together in the first place – such a total miss match…a slob and a clean freak. But, if you were to ask my mother…she’d tell you I wound up with the perfect woman. Mrs. Clean!

About this writer

  • Jeffery Cohen

    Jeffery Cohen

    Freelance writer and newspaper columnist, Jeffery Cohen, has written for Sasee, Lifetime and Read, Learn, Write. He’s won awards in Women-On-Writing Contest, Vocabula’s Well Written Contest, National League of American Pen Women’s’ Keats Competition, Southern California Genealogy Competition, and Writer’s Weekly writing contest.

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One Response to “A Clean Sweep”

  1. Linda O'Connell says:

    Your stories are always enjoyable.

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