“When you’re feeling sorry for yourself, scrub the kitchen floor.” Can’t remember who said it or where I came across the quote. It’s a good one. Hot suds in a blue bucket, yellow rubber gloves, scrub brush with a wooden handle, rags from an old towel, on your hands and knees–a meditation on daily use. First, clear the room as best you can. Turn the chairs upside down onto the kitchen table. Find your daughter’s long-discarded volleyball knee pads or at least a folded towel to kneel on. Start in the farthest corner of the room. If you cry as you scrub or if resentments emerge with the vigor of your scrubbing, that’s the point. While you purge self pity–that’s what it comes down to–you accomplish something. Scrubbing the kitchen floor is an antidote to any strong emotion.
You can be mad, sad, or anxious, worrying about someone you love. There’s a family story about my mother’s mother. On December 8, 1941, the day after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, she was on her hands and knees scrubbing the kitchen floor in my parents’ apartment in Elko, Nevada, waiting for news of her son who was on a Navy battleship in the Pacific. She didn’t know if he was dead or alive.
She had come to Elko in mid-November to await my birth, her first grandchild. After my safe arrival, she allayed her anxiety about her son with her tried and true method. By the time the news came that he was safe, Mother said the old linoleum floor sparkled.
You might find you are teased about your old-fashioned housewifery and told that cleanliness is next to uptightness, not godliness. Don’t worry about it. Most likely, the criticism comes from those who have little understanding of what it was like to be raised on a ranch, who don’t know how hard it was to keep nature outside. Most likely, they didn’t grow up with the chaos of back porches, where overcoats and boots and greasy caps and cowboy hats and ropes and wrenches and baling twine were held at bay. When a ranch wife said, “I just scrubbed the kitchen floor,” she meant the men in the family better know the difference between the back porch, the house, and the barn. My kitchen floor in Tuscarora is the same black and white linoleum tile that was in my mother’s kitchen at their ranch thirty miles southeast of Elko. The ranch has been bought and sold several times. Both my parents are dead. When I’m nostalgic for that time and place, when I’m feeling sorry for myself, missing those dear people, I scrub the kitchen floor.