A member of Marjorie Roemer’s current Memoir Writing course, Margie Arons-Barron recently shared this gem. The group’s task was to write about a saying (or sayings) that was (or were) common in our families or communities. Margie’s charmed all of us–and will do the same for you!
BURIED WITH HER BISSELL
By Margie Arons-Barron
Great-aunt Rose was a bookkeeper at Flah’s Department Store in Syracuse, NY and a spinster. I understood neither term. What I did know was that she had a pinched face and lived by the credo that “you clean up as you go along.” I learned that that meant you didn’t wait for people to finish their meals in a leisurely way. If their forks paused mid-air for conversation, she swooped in, scooped up their plates, and removed them to the kitchen.
Her sister, my nana, apparently inherited the Klein girls’ clean gene. Nana had a big nose, ample bosom, and ear lobes like a cocker spaniel’s. She smoked Pall Mall cigarettes, especially when talking on the phone. When the call ended, she’d put out her smoke, dump the ashes, and wash the ash tray. As soon as visiting friends started to leave, she’d appear with her Bissell carpet sweeper, methodically removing every piece of lint from the grey/green broadloom. She asked to be buried with the Bissell.
Nana taught me the rudiments of cooking, but it was really cook, clean, cook, clean. Wash and dry measuring cups halfway through the recipe. Wipe counter immediately when flour spilled. “Clean up as you go along,” she’d repeat. “It will be so much easier.” Her compulsion came from the shame she’d experienced long ago. After a party she and Grandpa had given, they went to bed without cleaning up. Grandpa took sick during the night. When the doctor arrived at the house, he saw ashtrays overflowing, pots and pans in the sink, gold-edged dinner plates covered with congealed gravy, and high-ball glasses with Scotch diluted by melted ice cubes. Nana never got over the mortification.
Though doctors no longer make house calls, the obsession survives with me. I still wash, dry, and put away the measuring spoons before the pan is in the oven. No matter how late guests depart, when I go to bed, the crystal is hand-washed and replaced in the cabinet. The serving pieces are dried and put away, the dishwasher is loaded and running. The table cloth and napkins are in the washing machine. It, too, is running. It’s a wonder I still entertain.
I’m not as bad as my Aunt Ethel. Once, when Uncle Mitch awoke at three a.m., she made his bed. Grumbling, he took a pillow and went to sleep in the bathtub.
My husband grew up in a household where a trip to the refrigerator was an archeological dig. Chaos was called creativity. He has yet to learn that his cereal bowl gets dried and put away, not left to drain; that the knife from his banana will clean more easily if it doesn’t sit on the counter all day; that overnight soaking of casseroles is just an excuse for leaving the scrubbing to someone else. He’d like to cook more, but he needs more clean-up practice to make that work.
“Clean up as you go along” is why I take care of the finances, not putting off paying bills on a monthly or even weekly schedule. It’s why my kids learned they could outwait me when it came to straightening their room, making their beds, or putting dirty jeans in the washer.
A clinician might accuse me of being anal. I say it’s efficiency and high executive skills. Besides, it’s easier to clean up as you go along.
After a long and successful career as an editorial and political news director, Margie shifted her focus to writing memoir and even fiction when arriving at BOLLI this past year. In addition to Marjorie’s memoir course, she has taken Betsy Campbell’s fiction writing courses and has been an active member of the BOLLI Writers Guild. She is now a member of 2018 BOLLI Journal staff as well. She still keeps her hand in politics and issues of the day on her blog which you can reach by clicking here.