My mother never was a person who really enjoyed cleaning the house. Thats not to say that our house was unclean in any way, cleaning just wasnt something she relished doing. It was always very low on her to do list and, if she had to choose between deep cleaning and doing something fun with me and my sister, she always picked us. There was never any question. We were much more important to her than a spick-and-span house.
As a result, Mother cleaned on a per need basis. That usually meant when she was having a party or gathering. At the last minute, she would buzz through the house with a dust rag in one hand and a time limit in the other. She became focused -- much like a competitor would just before a game.
We knew not to dare get in her way and, coincidentally, always seemed to have tons of homework on her marathon cleaning days. One time, a door-to-door salesman came to our front door during one of her cleaning frenzies and was determined to enter our house to sell new wares to help Mother.
Unless you can push a vacuum cleaner or mop a floor, you cant help me this afternoon, she said to him, peering through the small crack she had opened between the door and its frame. Talk about a quick get-away! He was off that front porch like a puff of smoke never to be seen again.
In spite of our excuses, most of the time when Mother opted to clean the house, my sister and I were definitely part of the process. It was important to our mother that we learn to take care of ourselves. In fact, when we got a little older and she decided to go back to work, it became our responsibility to keep the house tidy and in order.
My sister and I liked cleaning about as much as our mother did. We would rather do just about anything than clean the house. After all, it was in our blood, right?
After my sister could drive, I remember us deciding to go swimming or to the mall on days when we knew we had to have the house cleaned by the time Mother returned home from work. It wont take us but just a jiffy, I would say to my sister. Well divide and conquer and tackle the house from front to back!
We always allowed a good hour for that process when we really needed two, three or maybe even four. This was back in the days of the popular television sitcom Bewitched, in which Samantha always just twitched her nose and cleaned her house in a matter of minutes. I remember thinking if she can do it, why cant we? I tried and tried to twitch my nose to speed up my cleaning to no avail. After all, we were mere mortals.
The other night, I was reminded of our cleaning days when I realized my wife, Debra, who had been out of town for the better part of a week, was on the way home. Apparently, I had reverted back to my growing up days of not putting my clothes away and leaving dirty dishes in the sink. Thats definitely a no-no around here because Debra was raised quite a bit differently than we were. Her house was immaculate at all times. Order and organization were instilled in Debra just like clutter and fun was in me.
When I looked at the clock and realized Debras plane was about to land in Atlanta and I had not begun to get the house back to the way shed left it, I screamed. I again tried twitching my nose and, you know what? It still doesnt work.
Like a hurricane moving across hardwood floors and over dusty tables, I sprang into my Project Cleanway frame of mind. It became a competition between me, my strewn clothes, dirty dishes and the clock. I was so frantically focused that our little dog, Georgie, ran for shelter under a bed. I couldnt decide if he was scared or just didnt want to help.
Pushing a vacuum cleaner with one hand, and hitting the high spots with a dust rag with the other, I worked up a sweat as I zoomed around the house. Every so often I checked the clock to see the time remaining. I barely heard my phone ring when Debra called to tell me she was on the ground in Atlanta. I knew I only had about 90 minutes. She wanted to chat but I had to continue working. Using my shoulder to perch the phone against my ear, I continued to clean as I listened to what happened on her flight.
It sounds like youre out of breath, Mark, she said with curiosity. Me? No, I dont know why you think that, I said, as I shoved the stack of freshly washed and folded towels into the linen closet. Im just anxiously waiting for you to get here!
Oh, how sweet, she replied. I know. Ill see you in just a little while, I said as I hung up before she had a chance to reply.
I took a deep breath and continued. I had to chuckle to myself. Just the night before Id been at a photo shoot all dressed up for a photograph that will be on the cover of my next book. I felt so glamorous as photo after photo was snapped and I was directed into the absolutely best lighting for the pose.
I passed a mirror while cleaning and saw my sweaty self and thought that the photographers from the previous night would love this photo! I had gone from cover boy to house boy in a little more than 24 hours. Talk about a reality check!
This started me to thinking that this was a perfect example of what happens when two people who grow up very differently decide to get married and live in one house. We bring all of our baggage from childhood with us. Debra, the neat, organized one, whose mother liked to spend her time cleaning, and me, whose mother preferred to play instead of clean, have had to learn to meet somewhere in the middle.
I think we have, I muttered to myself as I used my foot to force my closet door shut before going out to help Debra with her luggage.
Georgie sprang out from under the bed and followed me out the door. But not before I made him promise he wouldnt open his mouth.
More with Mark
Check out Marks website, www.markballard.com, for current projects, recipes, Marks T-shirts, prints, cards and his collectible porcelain plates.
Mark is on www.macon.com 24 hours a day. Videos, columns and articles are featured.
Mark Ballards column runs each week in The Telegraph. Send your questions or comments to P.O. Box 4232, Macon, GA 31208; call 478-757-6877; email firstname.lastname@example.org; or become a subscriber to Marks Facebook page.