Sunday, July 31, 2011

Cleaning House and the Books that Help Me Do It

As I was crawling on the carpet to dust the legs and undersides of the end tables yesterday, I couldn't help remembering one of the scenes from a childhood book I read so many times that the cover fell off and has been lost for good. The inscription on the frontispiece (which I just now rediscovered) is from my 5th birthday and says 'Happy birthday, Emily! May all your life be filled with joy and fun! Love, K-- W---"

I'm not in touch with the wonderful woman who gave me the book anymore, but I think she'd be happy with how deeply it's ingrained itself on my psyche.

The book I'm referring to is All-of-a-Kind Family by Sydney Taylor. Set in pre-WWI Lower East Side New York, the story follows a family of five always dressed alike sisters through a year in their lives. Over the course of the book, the sisters experience quarantine from scarlet fever, losing a library book, the amazement of going to the beach: the simple joys of a family without much money but a lot of love. Reading it was the first time I'd ever been introduced to Jewish holidays: Purim, the Sabbath, Sukkot. In the second chapter (called, prophetically, 'Dusting is Fun'), Mama realises her girls not only are doing a terrible job dusting the front room but also that they hate doing it. So she comes up with a game where she hides buttons in the nooks and crannies of all that Victorian furniture. Each girl gets to prove she's done a good job dusting by finding all the hidden buttons - and sometimes, thrillingly, a new shiny penny.

Oh, how I wished I could play that game! That my mom would hide buttons (and maybe even a penny - or a quarter) for me to find as I completed the boring chores set for me. It's a thought that's stuck with me every time I've dusted even when I have my own apartment and no one to hide buttons except for me (or my cats). But every time, I get to remember Ella, Henny, Sarah, Charlotte, and Gertie and how much I've always loved this book.

As I continued cleaning house, I thought of other childhood books that made a mark on my cleaning ways. "Draw the broom, Laura; don't flip it, that raises the dust," says Ma in On the Shores of Silver Lake (one of my early favourites in the Little House books because of the pony on the cover), and I always make sure to follow Ma's instructions. The sad fact that the middle of house cleaning always makes the house look dirtier than when you started that Laura learns when she and Carrie, with the "help" of Grace, do the fall housecleaning for Ma while Ma and Pa are off taking Mary to college. The even sadder fact that sometimes when you're working so hard to impress someone, you forget the most basic parts like Anne Shirley using salt instead of sugar in the cream or, horrors of horrors, forgetting to put a lid on the hard sauce thereby allowing a mouse to drown in the dessert.

Do we all have these type of literary associations? What are some of the mundane chores that always sparks a book memory for you?

1 comment:

  1. I'll have to check out that book - I have fond memories of the Mrs Piggle-wiggle series which I read when I was a kid. It's practically built on that sort of advice to make chores more fun. They were really cute kids books and they were the first thing that popped into my head when I read this!


Thank you so much for taking the time to comment! I read and adore each one.