Palabras Pintorescas - Mother wanted windows squeaky-clean

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By Editha Bartley

Well, what do you know ... it has happened again. About once a year, always in the late Spring, I sort-of wish I lived in a cave, reason being, it is window washing time again. This isn’t a recent discovery of mine, I might add.

My squeaky-clean German grandmother and my English mother both grew up in households that pushed cleanliness, good housekeeping to the extreme at times. That is, according to my sweet brother Bill and me. Neither of us could ever understand why we had to dust the top of every book in our bookshelves when that dreaded spring cleaning time came around. Some of the bookshelves had glass doors in front, so how could dust get on top of the books, anyhow?

Mother did not allow us to blow off the dust off either — we had to use her special dust rags. These were big squares of our flannel pajama legs, cut with her pinking shears, our pajamas were made from heavy flannel, bought at Penny’s or Wards, and our grandmother made dozens of pairs of them for us.

So much for books and dust. The real killer chore was window washing. Mother had a regular routine, and as soon as we were old enough, we were put to work. She enlisted someone who worked at Valmora, our hospital complex home, to take home, to take off the storm windows. They were too big for us to handle. But we were big enough to be able to stand on a kitchen chair and reach most of the window. One of us was supposed to wash the outside, and the other was parked on the inside.

The object of this was simple — we were to wash the same window pane at the same time, so we could wipe out the many streaks we left, or hit the spots we missed. Since Bill and I basically had a love-hate relationship (emphasis on hate) this quickly became a war of the windows.

We each had a stewpot of mother’s window washing windex This was a mixture of ammonia, white vinegar and water. We really  got into trouble if we spilled any of this stinking stuff. It would kill mother’s flowers that grew under the dining room windows if I accidentally spilled it on them and it would eat the varnish off our wood floors if it got away from Bill, on the inside. Yes, our hands were very clean, and our leathers shoes were always soaked. That was not a good thing, I might add.

Wow! How our world has changed! This was the era of the unheard-ofs. We didn’t have canvas tennis shoes, for starters. If the real Windex in a spray bottle had been available, our mother hadn’t heard about it yet. We never had paper towels in our house, and there weren’t any in our hospital, either.

My cotton dresses, always made by our grandmother, and Bill’s cotton shirts, also made by my grandmother (being fitted for those cover-ups is yet another story) had to be ironed.

And that was after they were washing in a very old Maytag washing machine, then hung out to dry on the many clothes lines back of our house. Every piece of hospital linen was washed in our big laundry and hung on these lines as well. Dryers were unheard of, coal fired the boilers that heated the water, and soap flakes came in huge barrels.

Bill and I learned early on how to protect our shiny, clean windows. Mother’s old crabby cocker spaniel, Bob, would push his nose into the just washed hall windows out of spite, we figured, so we would hide and try to catch him in the act. In mother’s eyes, Bob was always right, so her sixth sense would suddenly kick in and Bill and I were in big trouble for the umpteenth time again.

I really am glad I don’t live in a cave, but I often wonder why I designed a house with so many big windows in it. I do appreciate the solar heat they produce, however.

Editha Bartley  lives in Gascon in Mora County. She may be reached at 454-0563.