Helen Chappell - August 2007

Clean - Old School


Helen Chappell

   It’s too hot to clean, so let’s just lie here under the air conditioner, pour another iced tea and think about it instead.
    I have to hand it to a yellowed pamphlet entitled The Modern Bride’s Guide to Housekeeping. There’s no publisher and no author listed, but the copyright date is 1947, which would place this invaluable handbook sometime after World War II, when a lot of couples were getting married and setting up home. I found it several years ago in a box lot at an auction, and stashed it away because, let’s face it, it’s a campy period piece.
    The illustrations alone are worth the price of admission, as the black and white drawings portray beaming young women in pompadours and do rags, flailing away at the Nazi dirt and disorder as if they were fighting the Battle of the Bulge.
    The modern bride was evidently a complete dolt when it came to running a house. The idea seems to be that she had no home training in the domestic arts. Perhaps it was because she was busy building aircraft or doing other war work. Maybe she grew up in a house with seventeen in staff, and never had to lift a finger, although I sort of doubt that.
    The fact that the writer of this peaen to domestic arts writes as if he/she is talking to a very slow kindergarten class leads me to think a man wrote this. I hope he’s enjoying Hell right now. I also hope he works in Housekeeping down there.
   “Keeping a clean house is the key to a good marriage,” we are told. “When Hubby [!] comes home from a hard day at work, he wants to be greeted with a clean, orderly home where he can put his feet up and read the paper while waiting for a hot meal. The happy home is clean, tidy and well ordered. The children should be rested and clean, the home serene and happy for the lord and master.” [!!]
    Ward, I’m worried about the Beaver.
    The author then goes on to discuss proper housekeeping in a way that would make the old, meanedition Martha Stewart blush. I think one of those escaped Nazi war criminals we hear so much about must have written this invaluable treatise.
    Some handy hints you’ve all been waiting for start with doing the dishes. You start with the glasses, which you rinse, scrub inside and out with a soft linen cloth, then dip into boiling water. You then polish them with another clean linen cloth so they shine. After that, you next tackle the silverware, which should be polished once a week. [I can’t remember the last time I used my good silver, let alone polished it.]
    Then the dishes are scraped, rinsed, then scrubbed thoroughly with soap and a clean dishrag, then rinsed again in that boiled water, then dried with a fresh linen towel. The manual says you should use a clean, freshly ironed towel for each cleanup.
    And of course, you should never allow the breakfast dishes to linger and mingle with the lunch and dinner dishes. Each meal’s utensils must be washed after each meal. One dreads to think of the punishment that awaits a harried young mother who doesn’t have time to do the breakfast dishes until after lunch. Especially if you don’t sweep the kitchen floor after each meal and wash it down twice a week.
    Speaking of all that linen, laundry should be done twice a week. And those sheets had better be freshly ironed, too. While the happy housewife is at it, she should also iron hubby’s boxers, shirts and socks. [SOCKS!!] Diapers should be done every day, and also ironed.
    While that laundry is churning away, the housewife is advised to turn her attention to cleaning the house. A daily dusting of light bulbs, baseboards and picture frames is de rigueur, in addition to everything else that needs to be swished with yet another ironed dust cloth.
    Hubby’s old flannel jammies make excellent dust rags, in case you didn’t know. Dusting the baseboards every day? What planet do these people live on?
    In addition to vacuuming and sweeping the floors daily, the housewife is also advised to take a swipe at the curtains and the slipcovers. Small rugs should be hung on the line and beaten daily; larger rugs taken up and beaten once a month. Wooden furniture should be polished weekly, and don’t forget to wash your ceramic bric-a-brac once a month in warm water and baking soda, then do the same with your marble tabletops and any alabaster busts you may have hanging around.
    And don’t forget, twice a year you must change the curtains and slipcovers. You do have summer and winter curtains and slipcovers, don’t you? Custom made? Dry clean only? No? What kind of a barbarian are you?
    After you’ve run your laundry through the wringer, you hang it out to dry. Except for the stuff like those linen towels and your husband’s shirts, which you should roll up while they’re damp, and store in the refrigerator until you can iron them, if you haven’t collapsed yet.
    Then you turn your attention to the bed and bath.
    Germs lurk in bathrooms. Big, bad, disease carrying germs. Toilets, sinks and bathtubs should be scrubbed daily using an abrasive cleanser. Bathroom floors and tiles should be washed down with Fels Naptha Soap. Towels should be changed twice a week.
    Oh, and don’t forget to turn all the mattresses at least once a week. Since you’ll be changing the sheets twice a week, you’ll already be in the bedroom anyway. Flipping the mattresses shouldn’t add more than an hour or so to the daily routine. Just don’t forget to dust the box springs!
    If, God forbid, there are dust bunnies under the bed, then you’ve failed as a housekeeper. “Slut’s wool [sic] is the sign of a lazy and disinterested housewife,” we are informed. Take me out and shoot me.
    Along about this time, you can take your laundry down from the line and set up the ironing board. For the next several hours, the housewife can “express her love for her family” by pressing every single piece of clothing, all those sheets, and let’s not forget the eighty-seven linen tea towels.
All of the freshly ironed laundry should now be put away in neatly organized closets and drawers. Woe betide the housekeeper with a sloppy linen closet! It’s the opening to Hell!! If those boxer shorts aren’t neatly folded in the drawer, they’ll wrinkle, and God knows you can’t have wrinkled boxer shorts. Or socks.
    Then the beds should be made with those freshly ironed sheets, which of course will wrinkle up the minute the exhausted housekeeper falls into them at the end of her day – completely exhausted, but happy to know she is The Perfect Modern Housewife.
    And now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to kick the dust balls out of the way and toss this glass into the sink. Just thinking about housework hurts my brain in this heat.