At the airport wondering what’s undone
Are we finally out of the house and into the airport, having locked the correct keys into the car and placed it so the French people can find it? Have we locked the shed and turned off the stove and more importantly, have we CLEANED ALL THE CORNERS and put the dog in the kennel and the cat food out and fed the fish? Have I made everything clear to the French people in my 17 page Household Instructions Brochure and the 8+ additional post-it notes I left on the purple table in the den. Will they find the den? Did I leave the right key?
IS THERE ANYTHING WE FORGOT?
Usually when embarking on a two-week vacation that question may involve what we forgot to bring, but right now my mind is on what we have forgotten to leave… for “the French people” who will be inhabiting our house, as we will theirs in Taverny, during the next two weeks. The house in Hestdalen has never looked so good. It is really shining like a jeema jewel after being gone over with a chamois the way I have only before ever cleaned a house I was going to sell or move out of. It does something to you, to clean like that, gives you a sense of ownership of the house you have owned but only lived in for a decade or so.
Okay, that is an exaggeration, it is not like I have never cleaned before, but certain things, like the kitchen ceiling have actually not been done. I had noticed the slow yellowing of the tiles but chose to cast my eyes earthward in blissful denial of the situation, not really knowing what to do about it except 1) try to paint it some fine day or 2) that failed, hire a carpenter to put in a new ceiling. I even asked a colleague at work about washing ceilings, figuring that she, being older than me and a real Norwegian, would have the skill and instinct for what is called “rundvask” – yes, Norwegians have a word for the kind of thorough cleaning that in my vernacular MAYBE resembles spring cleaning, but as I recall from my early married days, was to be done by all adult members of the household every Saturday morning. It was one cultural tradition we allowed to get watered down, no pun intended.
My colleague, to my surprise, said she had only washed a ceiling once, although her mother used to do it and she thought the key ingredient was ammonia. I noted the tip, but immediately returned to my chosen state of procrastination, thinking that if Tove has only washed her ceilings once then I was allowed to be in avoidance mode.
All that was before the onset of “THE FRENCH PEOPLE ARE COMING!” the state of affairs since summer’s start, wondering how the house will suit them, appeal to them, serve them, please them. It is a bit nerve wracking to not only pack for your two-week vacation, but get your house ready for strangers who will be vacationing in it at the same time. I remembered that one time during the fateful summer of 2001 when we came to the house while Olga was still in possession, I saw her washing the living room ceiling with a long handled mop. So I knew the basics: ammonia and mop, and thought it could not possibly look worse than it did, even if it didn’t come clean.
So I washed the walls, scraped the grease off the tops of the cupboards, and mopped the ceiling, in a increasing progression of delight as the room became more and more cheerful. All the while I was thinking of my mom’s sister, Aunt Barbara, whose housecleaning skills gained mythic proportions as related in appreciative terms by my mother. In short, my mother’s account of her growing up was that her older sister Florence ordered everyone to pull her around in a red wagon while she swathed her arthritic limbs with Noxzema, her little sister Louie was given a wide girth of peace and quiet because she got to prioritize her homework, and her other little sister Barbara did the chores, both inside the house and out in the barn with the men, from the time she was five years old. It was clear that of the sisters, my mother thought Barbara had turned out with the most useful skills. What her own role was, other than that of observer, was not clear, but my mother admired Barbara for her well clipped and organized method of running her household, which included raising her four daughters to clean both the in- under and oversides of cupboards, and to never fight.
I’ve succeeded in raising my daughters to never fight, and both of them have had part-time jobs as cleaning help, so I guess one generation makes up for the follies of another. I am still learning though. The house in Hestdalen is all a-sparkle. I think Aunt Barbara would even think so.