Poems & Essays

10 Apr

Cleaning Souls

General/Column 5 Responses

Curveball. That was the nickname I was given by my parents as a child. And although I did like baseball, especially the amazing New York Mets, the name was a direct hit on all the twisting and turning, the never-ending gyrations I would go through in my attempts to avoid participating in our family’s Sunday cleaning ritual.

“It’s close to Godliness.” My mother’s famous mantra would resonate down the hallway after her as she carried bundles of bedding that spilled over her outstretched arms like an eruption of lava spewing from Mount Saint Helen. The silence echoed long after she bent down for the stragglers and made her way downstairs to the laundry room where the beat-up Maytag washer and dryer moaned and groaned as if protesting the next load of the day.

Call it Divine intervention; call it survival instinct. But, somehow I knew I would be better off if I didn’t fully trust what the grownups in my life did or said. Looking back on it now, I think it was because of the laundry.

Although crisp, freshly-laundered bed sheets enveloped us at night and eventually allowed the thinnest layer of sleep to eek into the early morning hours, there was not enough Downy in the world to soften the reverberations of the rage and anger in my father’s voice. Not enough spray starch to iron out the regret and pain in my mother’s pleading sobs and ultimately the banging of the front door that traveled from downstairs up the stairway, into fragile walls of the bedroom my sister and I shared in our old house.

“Deanne, you promised….” No matter how much I tried to drown them out, my father’s words pierced through my thoughts into my brain as he pressed my mother. “You said I would never find you like this again after the last time…You can’t do this to me….to us. I can’t say no when they ask me to stay on at work. I need to be able to know that you’re here with the girls, that things are okay and everybody is safe. I need you here, Deanne. Don’t you understand? I need you. The girls need you.”

So, I heard, although I tried not to listen. I heard and lay perfectly still in my mountain fresh scented cocoon, and I made believe I was somewhere else.

My contribution to our Sunday cleaning was retrieval of the newly-washed and dried laundry, beginning with the two-flight trek down to the basement. I was greeted by a room full of shirts, pants, dresses and Clorox-whitened socks and undergarments. I found a rare sense of safety and comfort in the sort and toss rhythm I developed, as I made sure all the clothes found their way into their rightful owner’s basket. Then I hauled them back up the two flights to their corresponding rooms.

I took issue with my mother’s link between God and a clean house. How I curved and gyrated myself, putting the chore off, yet always managing to complete it before my mother’s intrusive reminder, “Bath time, then bed. Tomorrow’s school.”

I took such issue that I found myself researching the origins of her famous expression itself and, lo and behold, I learned that the saying did not originate in the Holy Book at all. On the contrary, one might draw the opposite conclusion from Jesus’ teachings about Godliness residing within a man’s heart, not in the amount of dust bunnies one encounters in his home. I thought about educating my mother, but instead took solace enough in knowing that God and I were on the same page. Both of us understood that no amount of Brillo would clean up the stain left by the impact of her alcohol-induced fits of anger and frustration. No fresh-as-spring smelling Lysol would disinfect the parasites that lingered in the bitterness, resentment and hatred.

I sometimes wonder if my father and sister knew that the four of us could scrub all day, every day of the week until the knuckles on our hands bled bright, berry-red blood, but that we would never clean away the pain, would never freshen up the stench of alcohol and tears in all the rooms of that house.

Now, there’s another spring cleaning, in our home with my own children, and I see to it that our ritual is quite different. I can’t seem to get enough of my boys’ laughter as we wrap ourselves in our Downy-scented sheets and blankets and play hide and seek, always managing to turn it into one massive giggle-fest.

We have turned folding and sorting laundry into scoring two points for every pair of Clorox-whitened socks and underwear we toss into the awaiting dresser drawer from across the room. And, we’ve actually considered including a three-pointer for shots made from further out.

It’s possible that my boys may never understand the true significance of the cherry wood plaque with engraved lettering that hangs above our kitchen. It says, “Alcohol NOT served here,” and it helps assure they will never know how it feels to confuse the condition of their home with the condition of their souls.

 

Judy Goldman manages to hone her writing skills while she fosters four boys and works as a psycho-therapist. She is eternally grateful to her two dogs and  cats for allowing the family to share their home in Northeast Pennsylvania.

 

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5 Comments

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  1. Gerardine

    April 11, 2017 at 11:00 pm

    Judy this is a wonderful piece. 🙂

    I have seen families’ use the ritual of cleaning as a way to exorcise problems. I felt sad for you and your family. Your mother’s loneliness and how she used alcohol to mask that pain, sad. Woman- once they start drinking- will fall into that horrible addiction faster than men.

    I found it refreshing and sweet that you make laundry day a day of fun and laughter, not a chore.

    Reply
  2. Jude Walsh

    April 16, 2017 at 2:07 am

    Judy,

    This is beautifully done! I was right there with you, experiencing the tension in your childhood home and reveling in the joyful atmosphere with your boys. Thanks for sharing this healing experience with us all.

    Reply
  3. Judy

    April 16, 2017 at 2:33 am

    Thank you so much for your comment and kind words Gerardine. I plan on submitting more of what I write in the future, so stay tuned!

    Judy

    Reply
  4. Judy

    April 17, 2017 at 4:01 pm

    Thank you so much for your positive thoughts and comments, Jude. Yes, there certainly is something to be said for “mountain-fresh scented” laundry!

    Judy

    Reply
  5. Victor

    May 30, 2017 at 3:10 pm

    Judy, your writing is incredible, it speaks from the heart and is honest and powerful. Keep up the great work, I look forward to reading a lot more from you in the future!

    Reply

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