TITLE: The Door
By dee smith
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Bytheville was pretty much like any other small town in the 1950s. The town had various styled houses from two-storied Victorians to ranch. Most people had some land, but not much. A few houses had fences, but mainly to keep their dogs from roaming the streets. People had a small town mentality when it came to the outside world—anywhere not in the town limits—anyone from there was an outsider. Although the town had some historic significance, status in this town was established a different way. Not by family heritage, history or money, no in this town status was established by your housekeeping abilities. And no one could keep house like Sally, the preacher’s wife.
Sally’s family had come from Europe and still talked about the great plague. They believed in scrubbing down any common area—any area occupied by more than one person at any given time—on a weekly basis. So each person was responsible for scrubbing their sidewalks weekly. Steps were also to be cleaned. Lawns and yards must be trimmed and neat at all times. Garbage was picked up twice a week—no point in allowing any rats to make nests. Even though there had never been a plague in this town, people abided by the rules set by Sally and her husband Dan.
Local farmers were always in trouble with Sally. It is very hard to work a farm and try to keep the sidewalks, yes even the farms had to have sidewalks, clean. Sally didn’t like corn crops, they grew much too high and lets not even talk about field mice!
The town did have a small medical clinic run by Doc Withers. He was a kindly old man who had been the town doctor since he was a kindly young man. His clinic had two exam rooms, and a reception area in the waiting room. He kept it very well stock for small emergencies. If anyone needed serious medical attention they had to go by ambulance to the hospital about 50 miles away. No one seemed to care that the hospital was so far away. Seldom did anyone ever leave town for any reason let alone to go to the hospital.
There was a one room school house for grade one through six and a high school for grades seven through twelve. If anyone wanted to go to college, they commuted to Wesley College in Chinton, which was 10 miles outside of town.
Yes, this town was pretty much self-sufficient. They ate the local produce and meats. There was one gas station, a post office, bank, and church on Main street. No one was particularly rich, but no one was poor either. Everyone had enough to live on, what more did they need?
Every Saturday night during the summer, there were concerts in the park. The park was rather small by common standards, but everyone in town had room to spread out a blanket and have a picnic in the shade while listening to music, so what more did they need?
Yes, life seemed rather easy and tranquil in Blytheville. Sally set the social calendar for they year each June. She decided it made more sense to make the calendar when the weather was nice and she could sit on her comfy bench in her flower garden. The sweet smells of the flowers inspired her.
The year began with Summer teas and ended with a formal tea to celebrate the graduation of their children. Yes, the town did have children—well-behaved children if the parents wanted to say in good graces with Sally and everyone wanted that.
No one could say why Sally had so much influence in town—she just did. Perhaps because she was the standard for housekeeping. Which brings us back to the story at hand.
Sally had been busy checking out other people’s home to ensure they had the proper status in town. After all, one must maintain their status, it was no bestowed upon you for life. Status was to be achieved as a reward for hard work—everyone knows house cleaning is hard work.
Sally first noticed the stranger when she was at Molly’s home. Molly worked hard and was number two in the pecking order.
“Who is that?” asked Sally rather indignantly.
“I’m not sure. They say he is a salesman who goes from house to house.”
“Why I never! This is not acceptable! I will just have to take care of this myself.” With that Sally stormed off determined to stop this salesman. But as she turned to go he was no where in sight. Where could he have gone? Sally would just have to visit the last place she saw him
Sally crossed the street and banged on the door. “Its Sally, open up”, was the greeting she called out. Ruth, who lived there with her husband Tom, was startled. She’s never heard Sally be so rude.
“Who was that man?”
“He was a salesman. He was selling this great cleaner. Look at my living room isn’t it great?”, beamed Ruth.
Sally was horrified. The room was so clean. Ruth would have to be moved up the social status ladder. But she was Ruth, one of the worst housekeepers in town! Oh, whatever would they do?
Ruth didn’t seem to care about the status she had achieved. She was just happy her home was finally clean. She had worked so hard for so many years and then this salesman just showed up and cleaned the entire house with his cleansing solution. I wonder how long it will last, thought Ruth. Ruth was rather lost in her own thoughts. Good thing—Sally was fuming. Sally was totally speechless. She turned and left without even saying good-bye.
Sally almost ran back to Molly’s house. “Disaster has struck!”
“Whatever are you talking about”?
“Why that, that salesman!” shouted Sally.
“What on earth had gotten into you?” asked Molly.
“Have you seen Ruth’s home? No of course you haven’t. Neither has anyone else-we need to keep it that way.”
“What are you going on about?”
“I need your help. We need to make sure Ruth is totally off the social schedule. No one is to visit her at her home.”
“How are you going to do that?”
“I’m not sure—yet”. She thought in silence for a few minutes. “I’ll have Dan announce from the pulpit that she has fallen in status. That should do the job”.
Sure enough on Sunday morning Dan announced from the pulpit, during the church announcement time, that Ruth had a surprise visit from Sally and now was on the bottom of the social ladder. Some people gasped in horror. Ruth didn’t seem to care. Strangely enough a few women actually embraced and comforted Ruth.
This will never do, thought Sally. I am losing control. What is going on? Somehow that salesman is behind all this. At that moment Sally jumped up with another “announcement”. She gave a stern warning about the salesman and allowing strangers into your home. Quite satisfied that she had scared people into submission she sat down.
To her horror as soon as she did Ruth stood up and said all the salesman did was help her clean her house. If anyone else was struggling with cleaning their house, perhaps they should talk to the salesman.
“NOOOOOO” screamed Sally. This is a trick—this salesman is out to destroy our town. We can’t let that happen.
By now the entire service was disrupted. Dan just sat down. People on both sides were jumping up and shouting at each other. After everyone had their say and sat down, Dan stood up and prayed the closing prayer. People left in silence.
Sally jumped on Dan for not controlling the service, after all it was his church and his responsibility to keep things orderly.
Meanwhile on the other side of town, the salesman was knocking on doors. All the commotion at church had made people curious. Why was Sally so upset. Why wasn’t Molly? Who was this guy and could he really clean their house?
The salesman was greeted warming at most of the homes he visited. People were more than delighted to have their homes cleaned. Many for the first time, actually felt they were clean not just their home.
But, Sally was not without influence. There were some that refused to even open the door or speak to the salesman. He would just politely say good-bye and walk away. They were expecting more of a fight, but no matter, they had retained their social status.
This went on for several days. Sally was so upset she stayed home in her garden. Oh, she still cleaned her house every morning, she had to set the example after all. But the afternoons were spent in the garden by herself with a cup of hot tea and a cookie or two.
Dan tried to stay out of the controversy. He hid in his office with the door closed. This was a sign that no one was to disturb him. He didn’t know what to do. Who was this salesman and why did he have to come to their town? Could things ever be the same? Somehow he doubted it.
By the end of the week, the salesman had knocked on all the doors in town except Sally’s. He walked up the sidewalk leading to her door. He knocked. Sally had seen him approach from her garden. She almost ran to the door. Finally, now I can tell him to get out of my town. He had no right coming here and causing all this trouble. We were perfectly fine without his interference! Just before she opened the door, she looked over her shoulder for a final inspection. Oh course everything would be in its place and neat and tidy—perfectly cleaned.
To her horror as she looked she saw all the filth—where she thought she had been cleaning, she had just made mud with her cleaning solution. There were dust bunnies on top of dust bunnies. Dirty track everywhere, the china was stained and caked with moldy food. Then the smell hit her she almost fell over. She was sicken and could barely reach the door knob. What had this salesman done to her perfect home? How did he do it?
The gentle knocking persisted. What should she do? She couldn’t entertain in this mess. She had to clean it up before she could open the door. But as she tried to clean, it just got worse—if that were possible.
“I can help” a soft voice said from behind the door.
“NO, I can’t let anyone see this situation. I am the leader and I must set the example”
“You cannot clean your house without my solution.”
“That’s nonsense. I’ve cleaned my house for years. I am known for my housekeeping skills. I am the best”.
“What do you mean! If you’d seen this house a few hours ago you would know how good I am”.
“No, I would have seen exactly what you see now. You were self-deluded. You thought you had the best housekeeping skills and you convinced others that you did, but really you are incapable of cleaning your home. You just make a mess of it. The more you try the more of a mess you make”.
“How can you judge me like that? I’ve done so much good for this town. Why I’ve made sure we have a clean, healthy place to live”.
“Right now I am not here to judge you, I am here to help you clean your house. Do you want my help? I will not force you to do anything you do not want to do”.
“I don’t know. I have to think about this. But I can’t think in all this mess. Meet me in my garden. It is much prettier there. I have worked hard pruning and weeding and planting it. Won’t you join me there”?
As the stranger walked along the outside of the house, Sally climbed through the clutter and filth to get to the side gate. To her anguished amazement, the garden wasn’t trim and proper at all. It was full of weeds and thorns and thistles. How could this be happening? I must be dreaming. Yes, that’s it. I am having a nightmare. When I wake up all this will be gone. But she couldn’t wake up. She tried pinching herself. She turned the hose on herself, but nothing helped. The garden was still a mess as was her house.
Finally, Sally just slumped to the ground. All her hard work had been in vain. Nothing was as it should be. She wept with self-pity at first then guilt then finally just anguish. How could she be so stupid and ineffective? What mattered now was what was she going to do?
She finally gave a huge sigh and looked up. She saw the salesman seated on her favorite bench. He was just calmly watching her. His face had a slight smile, not mocking her, just waiting.
“Will you let me help you”?
What could she say? “She couldn’t clean up this mess herself and she didn’t want to live this way so she had no choice. Of course”. Nothing else needed to be said.
The moment she said yes a strange and wonderful thing happened. The garden suddenly became beautiful. The weeds, thorns and thistles were gone. In their place were beautiful flowers and well manicured lawns. The trees, which had looked dead, now seemed so alive with green leaves and tiny pink flowers. Sally turned to gaze in the side window. The house was immaculate—just as she always imagined it should be. But somehow all that didn’t seem to matter. All the things she had tried to accomplish in her life seemed trivial. The salesman was still sitting on the bench in the garden. She turned to him and asked if she could sit down beside him. He nodded. They began to talk about what really mattered in life. But that of course is another story.
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