Growing up in a household so fond of things British that Anglophiliac is perhaps too mild a descriptor, thought Anglomaniac sounds wrong somehow, I read a great many shows and saw a great many films about "gentler" times gone by. "Mary Poppins" was my favorite movie. My parents exposed me to "Upstairs, Downstairs" and every other Masterpiece Theatre title of the 1970’s. "The Secret Garden" was among my most beloved books. I knew the meaning of "under house parlormaid."
I was growing up in the South, where most of the help came from people of color. My mother always had help in the house, at least after she had children. Her mother saw to it, sending her an allowance so that she would not need to ask my father for the money. I received the impression that it was acceptable to have someone clean and care for the children as long as it was not apparent to the husband that such help was necessary.
When I had my first house here in City By the Sea, and The Father of My Children was a young lawyer, I found to my amazement that I did not excel at keeping house. Things just seemed to get dirty awfully quickly. Reading a book was so much more interesting, whether with Then Small and Only Son or by myself while he played endlessly with his Fisher Price Little People. Sitting at the piano with him playing nursery songs and singing was vastly preferable to scrubbing a toilet or hauling the vacuum up and down our unfortunately carpeted staircase. When my mother came to visit, she delivered a critique of my housekeeping that stung. I pointed out that she had help when I was little.
In fact, our beloved Catherine came every weekday. She was there when my mother had a luncheon to attend, or a Garden Club meeting or a Bridge Club event. She washed our cloth diapers and hung them to dry. She ironed my father’s shirts. She did the dishes. She cooked. She oversaw our playtime in the backyard.
I don’t mean to say that my mother was not present, or that she did not know how to make the house look the way she liked it to be. But the fact remains that she had help.
After the fateful and critical visit of November, 1987, my mother eventually offered to provide me with the sort of cleaning allowance her mother had given her. My grandmother had died, and for the first time since she "retired" from social work to take a six week vacation at the beach with my father in 1951, she had a little money of her own. Actually, it was rather a lot of money, but she was deeply uncomfortable spending it. I got some estimates from cleaning services, and she deemed them too high. The cleaning help never happened. (The next year she offered to pay for me to join Weight Watchers instead. Thanks, Mom!)
That’s not to say that there hasn’t been help over the years: S, M, A1, A2 and H have all cleaned house for me. S came to us during my first year of seminary, when I was also pregnant with The Princess, and I am still grateful to the friend who recommended her. She stopped working when she had a new baby. M, a burned out social worker looking for something else to do, had great energy; I loved to be around her. After my divorce, when my house had been sold, we worked together to clean its emptiness from top to bottom, and somehow a day that should have been very difficult was redeemed by her presence. A1 came to wash the walls in this house, a friend of one of the team of painters employed at the time we were getting it habitable. I loved her. She was on disability after a terrible on-the-job injury to her foot, and after a while it became clear to her that she really couldn’t manage cleaning jobs, either. I never let myself become attached to A2 (criticized us for not being tidy enough–um, excuse me, that’s why I need help!) or H (nice older gal who didn’t like my Kirby or cleaning a third floor bedroom and raised her price too high), but I do know that having help with the domestic side of life has always been good for my mental health. On the other hand, I’m a pastor. I can’t afford to pay a cleaning lady more per hour than I make myself.
After I got a raise at the beginning of this year, I began to listen out for possible cleaning ladies, and my friend RevFun delivered! I met G this afternoon. She is everything I am not, and we respect the difference. I told her, "When I was growing up, I used to joke that my dad couldn’t do anything practical because he was too busy thinking great thoughts. Imagine my surprise when I turned out to be just like him! I am up here all the time," I said, touching my head, "and it’s only on a day like this that I notice the dog hair tumbleweeds in the corner."
G smiled and said, "Not me! I notice everything. That’s why I’m so good at what I do." She went on to tell me about working for a family with ten children and her efforts to keep them in good order. She told me that she would clean windows and take books off shelves to dust them.
Fearfully, I asked her fee.
It is affordable.
I believe there really is a Domestic Goddess. And she starts next Monday at 8 a.m.