Mrs. Clean

Posted on November 15, 2018 under Storytelling with one comment

 

“Do you remember Grandma’s Lye Soap,

Good for everything in the home,

And the secret was in the scrubbing,

It wouldn’t suds and it wouldn’t foam.”

Cleanliness is next to godliness. While this phrase is credited to John Wesley, its roots can be traced to biblical times. Of course, one suspects that Mr. Wesley was talking about purity of the soul but humans as a species are known to be fastidious when it comes to personal cleanliness. Some of today’s youth take this to extremes with showers that can last upwards of 30 minutes.

Growing up in a large family, learning the ins and outs of cleaning was a part of our education. We learned how to do the dishes, vacuum the carpets and wash and wax the “battleship” linoleum floor coverings. And was there a more miserable job than cleaning the small, individual panes of a glass in a French door?

Sarah and Jane (not their real names), aged 6 and 8, were seconded by their grandmother to go to the village church on Saturday to get it “spic and span” for Sunday mass. Much like it is still today, the cleaning and maintenance of churches in rural locales fell to a group of dedicated volunteers back in the 1930’s.

The girls had been instructed to come equipped for a morning of unselfish labor in the name of the Almighty. They had gathered up cleaning supplies from home which included a cotton mop and wringer pail, Johnson’s Glo Coat, Rinso, Chipso, Oxydol, Red Devil Lye, Comet and Bon Ami and lots of rags. They also came armed with the most important ingredient: elbow grease. Cleaning a church was not a task for the timid.

By any description, grandma was a force to be reckoned with. She didn’t have a lot of tolerance for improprieties. So when the young girls showed up on the steps of the church without appropriate headwear, grandma was not amused. That was in an era that women wore hats inside places of worship. Entering a sacred place without a hat was a sacrilege.

It would have taken too much time for the young girls to go back home. Grandma was not deterred. Women of her ilk were used to improvising. She grabbed the rag bag and pulled out an old cotton bed sheet. She quickly tore it into strips and affixed a piece on each of her granddaughters’ head using bobby pins to keep them in place. She marched her young charges smartly into the church.

The girls were quite small in stature and they wondered if grandma might just grab them, turn them upside down, dip them into the wash bucket and start using them as human mops.

They toiled for three hours without uttering so much as a word such was their fear of speaking in the house of the Lord. Actually, it was their fear of grandma that rendered them mute.

The church was spotless but grandma wasn’t quite finished. She suspected that the children needed spiritual cleansing as well and instructed them to kneel in the pews to say a decade of the rosary.

One can only surmise that they began with the Sorrowful Mysteries.

 

 

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Comments

One Response to Mrs. Clean

  1. Carleton MacNeil says:

    Oh My Len, thanks for the glimpse of the past and all those environmentally friendly products of the time. Sounds like your grandma was my mother’s identical twin sister. Her favourite commercial was the one that insisted that “Mister Clean Leaves A Sheen Where He Cleans”. Oh did she go overboard with that one! One day before we had plumbing in the house, Mister had his work cut out when my sister tripped while coming down the stairs with a full “chamber pail” (a three gallon portable septic tank). About three hundred square feet of wall paper had a whole new design, in one splash of #1, #2 and countless little pieces of the Eaton’s catalogue. Even God himself hid in the woods for a few hours that day. But after about a week, when there was no more trace of the event, it became hilarious and still is a favorite recall today.

    I think that was the day that started serious discussion about getting hot and cold water running up and down the stairs(in pipes)! Thanks again Len

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