The strong aroma of coffee and sizzling bacon makes its way up the stairs and slips under my door to assault my sleepy senses.
“Wake up,” it tantalizes, “The big day is here.”
I hold my nose and pretend not to notice. Maybe I can crawl back into that resting place behind my eyes and grasp sweet sleep for a few more minutes.
Forget that idea. I hear the purposeful footsteps of our determined and task oriented Captain. It is futile to consider jumping ship, and mutiny is out of the question. I pull the covers over my head. Why do I think there is any escape?
“You awake?” croons the sweet voice belonging to the head of this week’s maneuvers.
“Yes, Mama,” I admit. “I’m on my way.”
All five kids are suited up and about as eager as I am to begin day one. Sorghum molasses oozes out of hot biscuits and a mountain of fluffy scrambled eggs keeps our attention and fortifies us for the mission.
Papa admonishes us to do as our fearless leader directs and then he fades into that nebulous going-to-work place, leaving us at the mercy of Captain Mama.
She is in full rig for this detail, bustling around with buckets and lye soap. When the last bite of breakfast is taken she hands out the assignments. We are to work in twos. Spring-cleaning has officially commenced.
It does not seem fitting for a fourteen-year-old boy to scrub things in a house, but Mama says dirt is dirt and it can’t tell male from female. A sliver of light begins to find its way into my developing brain as I think about woman’s work and man’s work.
If I stay a bachelor for a decent length of time, Mama says I’ll be glad I know how to keep things ship shape. She loves those nautical terms. She should have joined the Navy instead of having so many kids; except, I’m pretty sure girls can’t be sailors, no matter how smart they are.
My partner for this first day is Penny Annie. Her real name is Penelope Annabel. (If you ask me, there were better choices to be made there). She is eight and seems to know how spring- cleaning is done a whole lot better than I do. What is it about females? Are they born with some kind of instruction manual?
Penny reads our list and tells me what supplies to gather. She is taking this job very seriously.
“ We’re supposed to take down the parlor curtains for Mama to wash, scooch the furniture to the middle of the room, scrub the baseboards, and then mop the whole floor at least twice.”
It was a dirty winter.
“We’re to pump a bucket half full of water and then Mama will add some more that’s boiling in a pot on the wood stove.”
I tote the bucket.
The youngest, four and five, are commissioned as special helpers; level one, as the rest of us call it.
Becky June is sixteen, but very distracted since she got some crazy idea she is in love with a smart-aleck named Henry who swears horses will be replaced by automobiles. She is paired with her twin who wants everything done right by the book. He is in for a vexing time.
By noon we’re back at the big table to eat fried chicken with leftover biscuits and lemonade. Each team is assigned one more task and then we’re free to play Croquet in the front yard. Mama knows what’s important.
I sit on the porch swing and ponder this annual cleaning business. We always resist the idea, but when it is finished there is a real nice feeling, having everything washed and polished in time for the celebration of Easter.
Mama says there are lots of lessons to be learned this week of no school. She suggests we observe what we planted last fall is starting to bloom, and to notice that hard work accomplishes goals and brings rewards. She hopes we will recall these times with great fondness.
I hope so too.
“Time for supper,” Mama calls through the screen door. “Come in and get yourselves cleaned up. Somebody help the little ones wash their feet.”
How can she be humming in the kitchen after this long day?
“Your father is on his way,”
Is that a giggle I hear?
“I see him through the clean shiny window.”
She beams… oh so satisfied.
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