A Wiped Wall Gathers No Mold

Keep (v):  2. "continue or cause to continue in a specified condition"

My grandmother truly "kept" a house. Things stayed perfect—like magic—and thus perfectly non-replicable. I saw the product, not the process. 

Vesta and great-grandson (and apron), 1991

Vesta and great-grandson (and apron), 1991

And then last winter, eight years after Grandmother died and 40 since I'd stayed overnight, I remembered something. It was when I noticed my black bathtub mold had again fluffed itself twice the width of the grout. In contrast twinkled the memory of Grandmother's white grout and pink tile. How did she do it? She certainly did it without a squeegee, ylang-ylang spray, motorized rotary brush and citrus solvent, all of which cannot cure the nadir of nastiness that is my tub. 

She did it with a towel.  

My epiphany was a vision of Grandmother wiping the walls after my little cousin and I had taken turns in the shower. Prevention was this particular magic: a dry wall gathers no mold. And although memory cannot confirm, I am certain she would have used a small hand towel to save on laundry. Not a "company" towel, but one too good for the rag bin and too old for show. And she would have smoothed it onto the shower rack to dry, hidden, for next time. Simple, thrifty, effective.

I'm trying it now. A ratty washcloth hangs in my tub as a working tribute. So far, it actually does work. I will never "keep" a house, but with her help maybe I can at least keep the grout on the lighter side of gray. 

 

Joanna Brichetto is a naturalist and educator in Nashville, where she writes the urban nature blog Look Around. Her essays have appeared in Jewish Literary Journal, Killing the Buddha, GeekDad, Mamalode, GardenRant and (forthcoming) The Fourth River. 

How to Show the Fight at Your House

Mike Tyson bit off a piece of Evander Holyfield’s ear while my cousin Tony, the host of that night’s pay-per-view event in his apartment overflowing with friends and family, placed coasters beneath stray tumblers and handed napkins to those eating pizza on his carpet. I don’t know if he witnessed the bite firsthand, he was so busy keeping his place perfectly in place with 20 people taking advantage of his free premium cable. He wiped his kitchen table. Guests would drop, he would pick up. He checked and rechecked his spotless bathroom. I’d been in there moments before just looking around as I tinkled, in complete awe of how it could be so...so clean. Were those baby wipes in place of toilet paper? Is that a cherrywood wipes holder? The wipes were to me the single reminder of Tony’s severe diabetic condition that would eventually kill him at 29: tall, thin, graceful, his mother’s best friend. To anyone else that night, they were simply a sign of a man who took great care in his toilet time.

I missed the ear bite myself. It took about 20 seconds and it stopped the fight. I was in Tony’s bedroom checking on my baby sleeping in his bed, and I lingered at his bookshelf filled with framed photos of family, my daughter included. You notice dust when things are dusty, but with Tony, you noticed how nothing was ever dusty, nothing was ever without care. By the time I could pull myself in complete admiration from this curiosity, the fight was over.

illustration by  Maia Butler

illustration by Maia Butler

- Erica Hoskins Mullenix is a freelance writer and editor, and a contributing editor here at Dead Housekeeping. Besides personal essays detailing her life as an introverted middle kid, bewildered but kickass mother and special needs parent, she also writes short fiction. Proudly an alum of Howard University in Washington, D.C., Erica created the online writer’s community known as yeah write in April 2011. She has had essays published in Salon, The Houston Chronicle, PANK, and other print and online publications. Her fiction and other writing can be found on her personal blog at freefringes.yeahwrite.me. Follow Erica on Twitter @freefringes

Always and Never: Ma's House Rules

Always cook enough for more people than you expect.

Never use the same toothbrush for more than a month.

Always turn off the lights when you leave a room.

Never let the dog on the couch.

Always refill the ice tray.

Never go to bed with a sink full of dirty dishes.

Always try a strong cup of coffee for a headache, before taking painkillers.

Never bring food or drink to the bedroom.

Always treat yourself to expensive, well-made shoes. 

Never be the guest who shows up empty-handed.

Always offer to wash the dishes.

Never let clean laundry sit in the dryer for too long.

Always rinse cans and bottles before putting them in the recycling bin.

Never be cheap with money or food.

Always rinse the rice until the water runs clear.

Never drop in on people without an invitation.

Always give the mailman $20 at Christmas.

Never forget a birthday.

Always talk to children about everything - it’s how they learn how to be in the world. 

Never add sugar to spaghetti sauce.

Always have fresh garlic in the kitchen. 

Never co-sign a loan.

Always watch the original King Kong on Thanksgiving day.

Never throw away loose buttons.

Always be respectful of old people.

Never back down when you know you’re right.

Always have you sister’s back.

Never forget where we came from.

Carmen and Lana, April, 1967

Carmen and Lana, April, 1967

 

- Lana Nieves is a Puerto Rican writer, photographer, and lunchbox enthusiast from Brooklyn, who has somehow landed in San Francisco. One of her many online projects can be found here. 

Check out Nieves' previous Dead Housekeeping entries: how to give a  toast and make cafe con leche.

Rags

My mother never wore gloves to clean, and she never used trendy, fresh-scented cleaners advertised on TV. She cleaned the bathroom with bleach, and the windows with ammonia. She scrubbed the floor on her hands and knees with a brush and Fels-Naptha, wearing my brother's football kneepads; never with a mop. Her other implement of choice was a rag, whether cleaning the toilet or her ceramic figurines.

Any fabric that had outperformed its original duties was re-purposed for cleaning. A faded T-shirt became a dust cloth. A sock polished shoes. A threadbare washcloth sat under the soap dish to absorb drips. Every morning after washing her face, my mother used that soaped-up swatch to wipe down the sink, fixtures, and vanity. She cut over-fraught bath towels into pieces for cleaning the toilet. She swished the brush only to remove visible stains, then flushed and poured a cup of bleach into the bowl, thrust in her hand, and scoured the porcelain with the same determined vigor she used on pots and pans. I learned this routine when I stayed home from school with a cold.

Just the thought of ammonia still burns my sinuses. But my mother appeared to enjoy sloshing a soaked rag over the windows then wiping the pane with an old, torn dishtowel until the glass was nearly invisible. Afterward, she would admire her wedding set, sparkling on her hand. "Cleans diamonds better than anything."


- judy b. is the author of the fiction collection Stories for Airports, and she leads literary bike tours with readings in the San Francisco locations that inspired the stories. She co-produced and co-starred in Kristin Tieche's award-winning short feminist horror film The Spinster and produced and co-starred in Gates and Strays, a webseries created by Jen Ralston. From December 2015 through February 2016, judy b. is a resident artist at Listhús Artspace in Iceland. Find her at onze11 and on Facebook.

For Mary Lou: How to Care for a Troubled Household

1.  Put on your shirtdress, knee-high hose and loafers. Cover your head with a plastic rain bonnet. The bus ride from your home to theirs is long.

2.  Upon arriving, shoo the cats out of the house. The five-year-old girl will tug at your dress; keep her behind you, casually checking each room to make sure the mother hasn’t committed suicide.

3.  Teach the girl to tie her shoes. Tell the bunny story. Yes, that one: make a rabbit ear, chase it around the tree, dive into the hole.

4.  Unfold the ironing board. Sprinkle the father’s shirts with water, roll them up. Unroll and iron. You and the little girl sing with the Supremes on the radio; the iron cackles and spits.

5.  Sweep, wash the windows, do dishes, dust, wax.

6.  If the father has disappeared, you are in charge. The mother is locked in her room; children must be fed. You won’t get paid for the extra hours, but Lord Jesus will know.

7.  Keep an eye on the eldest son, the one who has brain troubles. If he is outdoors alone, holler out the back porch, ring the triangle. Bullies are in the fields, waiting.

8.  Count the children; there should be five. Start them on homework; put the little one to bed.

9.  Take the bus home to your lonely son and liquored husband.

10.  Sing “Try Me One More Time” in your sleep. Angels hover and kiss your temples. You are loved.

 

- Meg Galipault's publishing experience includes serving as managing editor of the Kenyon Review and executive editor of dialogue: voicing the arts, a nonprofit magazine covering the visual arts in the Midwest. She is a contributing editor for yeah write and has a blog called Pigspittle Ohio. Meg earned her bachelor's degree in journalism from Ohio University. She lives with her husband and cats in Mount Vernon, Ohio.

You can find Meg's companion essay to this piece over on our noteworthy blog, here.