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Monday, June 30, 2008

My Way of Housecleaning

The house and porch haven’t been vacuumed for a week, the refrigerator needs to be cleaned out, there’s laundry to be done (as always), bathroom to scrub, trimming to do around the edges of the lawn that the mower misses, and I can’t get into any of it when there’s another human around, so David has to leave the house before I can start. In my non-system, there is no particular order and certainly no nonsense about having to finish one task before beginning another. The whole operation runs on impulse and inspiration. My process also requires at least one book. First, a load of laundry goes into the washer, and then I can sit down to a cup of coffee and bowl of cereal, and read a few pages reward myself for facing, at last, the daunting array of mundane tasks this day holds.

My book today is THROUGH CHARLEY’S DOOR, by Emily Kimbrough, an amusing story of her first job after college, working in the advertising department of Marshall Field’s in Chicago. Young Emily started at the legendary Chicago landmark in 1923, when Field’s was still a major tourist attraction, as well as THE downtown Chicago department store, but she found all the older staff were full of stories about the old days of the “carriage trade,” referring literally to society people who arrived at “Charley’s door” (the Washington Street entrance) in horse-drawn carriages. Our family tradition the day after Thanksgiving was to take the train into the city to see the store windows decorated for Christmas—not just with tinsel and lights but with colorful, elaborate tableaux in which mechanical characters moved through a sequence of marvelous actions. Each girl was also allowed to choose one new ornament for our Christmas tree at home. So, good! I can relate to Marshall Field’s.

Breakfast quickly over but with no time for an hour-long ramble with Sarah this morning, I telephone the neighbor to arrange for a brief doggie play-date. The dogs play first at the neighbors’ house, then follow me down to our yard, where I give them a big bowl of water before turning the hose on my little vegetable garden. Dogs go on playing. This is great: I’m exercising Sarah and gardening at the same time!

Next, back in the house, I attack the refrigerator, which not only fills up the container to be taken out to the compost pile (a trip that inspires me to deal with that tall grass along the walk and to pull a few weeds from the flower bed) but also nets a little early lunch of leftovers for Sarah and me. Sitting down at the table on the porch also gives me time to read another short chapter in my book, the one in which Emily writes up her first full page of advertising, using quotations from ALICE IN WONDERLAND to introduce items from each department, leading to many raised eyebrows.

“Miss Gardner was the first person to express doubt about it. She was the first person who saw it. ‘We’ve never had advertising done in a humorous vein,’ she said.
“’I don’t think it’s very humorous,’ I assured her mournfully.
“’Perhaps not,’ was her answer, spoken kindly, ‘but I’m sure you meant it to be.’”


Looking up from my book and casting my eye around the porch gives me the clue to fold comforters and throws, stack books and magazines neatly, and get all the dreck cleared off the summer dining table. Now, refrigerator clean, dishes done, porch tidied but not yet swept, it’s time to check e-mail and decide what to do next.

Silence from the laundry room tells me the laundry is ready to go out on the line. Sarah will like that: it means she can go outdoors again for a while. And when we come back in, the moment will be ripe for cleaning the bathroom, after which I’ll have earned a sit-down with my last cup of coffee for the morning and another peek into 1923 big city department store life before the horror of vacuuming. I’m sure a man invented the vacuum cleaner. Who else would want to fill the peacefulness of an empty house with all that thunderous sound? It is faster and more thorough than the broom, however, and that will give me time to hoe my garden rows and enjoy some more of Emily’s adventures on the job in Chicago.

It’s a beautiful, sunny morning, perfect for just about anything a person could want to do. Lucky me, having Bruce at the bookstore today so I can enjoy a few hours at home!


Anonymous said...

Will you set THROUGH CHARLEY'S DOOR aside for me for when I come in August? It sounds "right up my alley."

P. J. Grath said...

Doors seem to be a theme with me lately, what with Merle and Charley and the art door project down by the harbor. I'll be glad to hold this book for you, Maiya, and I do think you'll get a lot out of it. It was sad when Emily's society friends didn't invite her to the big dinner dance because she was a working girl, but on the other hand she got to meet R. R. Donnelly himself, the Chicago printer revered by booksellers for his beautiful little Lakeside Press editions. Win some, lose some.

Anonymous said...

You - vacuum - your - porch?!? Ulp. You should probably never visit the Writing Studio and Bait Shop. And I don't even get as much reading in . . .

However. You inspired me to do some composting. It'll make me feel less guilty when salad greens moulder away if I bury them in the earth and let the worms feast, rather than gift-wrapping them in plastic for some future archeologist.

P. J. Grath said...

Let me explain. The front porch is enclosed. It's our summer dining room and sitting room. (Actually, we don't have a dedicated dining room the rest of the year.) When the door is opened, leaves and such blow in; we and the dog tracks grass clippings in; dead flies and such accumulate on the floor under the windows. So, yes, from time to time I take the vacuum to it and bask for days afterward in a glow of cleanliness. Even reading on the porch is more pleasant when the floor is clean and isn't nagging me to get up off the couch and DO something.

I found I have another copy of THROUGH CHARLEY'S DOOR and want to do a whole posting on Emily Kimbrough sometime in July. The first book of hers that I read was OUR HEARTS WERE YOUNG AND GAY. Entertaining writer.