First Published Essay

[The following essay was published in the Tucson Citizen on Monday, July 20, 1987. Title provided by newspaper personnel. My original title was I was a household failure. Every year, for a number of years, columnist John Jennings let the readers take over his column for a month. Winning entries were featured on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. I have posted this in its entirety with comments on what I would change today as I know I would be called out on at least a couple of things. And, yes, I did exaggerate; I really wasn’t that bad when it came to helping around the house. Made a good story at the time, though.]

Mommy’s little dust buster was on the loose.

Only 8 years old, but armed and dangerous.

Within minutes, I had crashed head-on into the china cabinet, demolished two table lamps, and knocked my little brother into the magazine rack.

While Mom was digging Davey out from under the last several issues of the Reader’s Digest and McCall’s, I whipped the Electrolux around and headed for the cat.

“For Pete’s sake, Mary Frances,” my father hollered as the peeled Mospy off his trouser leg, along with most of the material, “do it yourself before she destroys everything!”

My mother’s policy of peace at any price thus condemned her to doing most of her own housework forever.

By the time I reached adolescence, I had lost interest in vacuum cleaners. I’d rather hang out with my friends. Or I would lounge around my room, working a crossword puzzle or reading the latest Agatha Christie mystery.

Oh, I helped around the house sometimes. When I was threatened.

Trouble was, I wasn’t threatened often enough.

My best efforts weren’t up to Mom’s standards, anyway.

“You never vacuum the corners,” she’d always complain.

And she couldn’t understand why I dusted around the doilies and knickknacks instead of under them.

Whatever chore I did, my mother usually did it again the next day. [Note: I sort of exaggerated here.]

However, there was one area that she refused to touch unless we were expecting overnight guests.

Throughout my adolescence, Mom had a recurring nightmare in which a visitor took a wrong turn on the way to the bathroom, stumbled into my bedroom, and disappeared forever.

Mom could stand to look at the mess for only so long—then she’d go on the offensive.

“That room looks like an explosion at a rummage sale,” she’d yell, waving the dry mop in my face. “Clean it up or forget about going out on Friday night forever.”

I’d collect the dirty clothes and head for the spot where I’d last seen my hamper. Then I’d stuff the clean clothes in either the closet or in one of my bureau drawers.

Finally, I’d shove the books, magazines, and everything else under the bed.

All clean!

If Mom couldn’t see it, she wouldn’t complain about it.

My domestic deficiencies never bothered me until I was a few years over the age of 21. That’s how long it took me to figure out that everyone I knew was married—except me.

While I had been improving my vocabulary and collecting Agatha Christie mysteries, my friends had been improving their housekeeping skills and collecting Tupperware.

I may have been inept, but I wasn’t stupid. I realized that either I had to change my ways, or I could look forward to a life time filled with the companionship of cats. [Note: I would omit this today because, many years after I wrote the essay, I met a few wonderful people who are unmarried and have cats and who became my friends.]

I vacuumed the corners; I dusted under the knickknacks and doilies. I went on a cleaning binge and tore my room apart.

I found my First Communion dress, a fossilized Snickers bar, and a book about Rasputin that I had checked out of the library the day after the Russians launched Sputnik.

I divided everything in two piles. The pile I wanted to keep was three times as high as the pile I wanted to throw out.

“That’s it,” I shouted. “There are only two ways that I’m ever going to be rid of this mess. Torch it or move.” [Note: I never even THOUGHT about setting my parent’s house on fire.]

Mom hid the matches, so I moved, to a singles complex in another city. I started dating the building superintendent.

He was a real whiz at his job, especially when it came to cleaning apartments. [Note: Yes, this was Ken, aka late Other Half. When he retired and I was still working full time, he did most of the cooking, cleaning, and laundry. For that, I will always be grateful. When I retired from full time work, he “retired” from housework.]

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