Thursday, May 14, 2009

Squalid family story

Mother, in an attempt to get my brother and me to clean up after ourselves, used to ask: "What would happen if nobody cleaned up?" We never found out, because mother had what my aunt called a "girl," to avoid the pejorative "maid," which for some reason was a low class way of speaking (Considering that my aunt called her friends--grandmothers all--"the girls," I guess girl was a better term. Well, you had to live through it, all women under the age of 90 were called girls, not women.) Anyway, we had a cleaning woman--a former client who had done time for shooting her husband--and the house was clean, if cluttered.

However, mother's theoretical was tested by a close relative, who I'll call Alvin. Alvin and his wife didn't like to clean, and didn't. Nor did they employ a cleaning person, girl, woman, or man. So we got to know what would happen if nobody cleaned up. It was pretty grotty.

Alvin and his wife, Alice, left piles of books, newspapers and junk mail on every available surface, and when that surface was covered they just piled it higher. Theirs was the only household I've ever visited where the toilets were covered with dust. And I have visited some very humble households, namely those of most of mother's clientele. Some lived in the country and had outhouses that were not as filthy as that of these two college graduates.

Add three children to the mix, and let them do whatever they want in the house, such as play ball indoors and scatter their possessions everywhere. A baby grand piano, shoved up against the wall where no-one could access the keyboard, made a cultural statement. A mattress and bedding in the middle of the living room floor attested to the fact that Alvin snored and Alice didn't like it.

To make matters worse, Alice was an awful cook, who served up whatever she could find in the refrigerator. So Shabbat dinner could include, but not be limited to, one baked potato, a few string beans, and a challah that had seen better days.

They were awfully nice people and very glad to see you, so once in a while you could not avoid Shabbat dinner. They were trying to be hospitable, the poor things. I guess they had long ago stopped seeing the dirt and disorder and thought it was normal.

But what about public health? What about germs? Had our ancestors left the poverty and oppression of Eastern Europe so their progeny could end up like this?

2 comments:

airforcewife said...

My grandmother would not have been able to help herself - she would have started cleaning for them.

miriam said...

Visiting their house made me itch violently.