Tabatha Deans

Bringing Integrity to the Written Word

Cleaning with a Purpose

Since my job at the Epilepsy Foundation ended earlier this year, I have been helping a friend out with her housecleaning business. It’s good physical labor, pays a few bucks and I get the chance to meet some interesting people.

One of the first houses I helped her with looked just like something out of a movie from my childhood. Red brick and white columns in front, I couldn’t help but be a little envious of the palatial-like abode. There were endless rooms, and clearly the elderly couple who lived there had done quite well for themselves in life. I was a little judgmental about what I assumed their lifestyle had been, and as we wandered about cleaning Mr. and Mrs. J kept to themselves in one of the many dining areas.

I noticed immediately the huge formal library, as well as stacks of books alongside each bed, in many corners and stashed all over the house. For some reason, I knew I had to bring this strange man, (I assumed he was the reader in the family,) a book I had at home. Robert brought it home, I think one of his patients recommended it, and it was a true story about the dilemmas spies face. I pushed the thought away, but each time I returned to the house I felt a strong urge to give it to Mr. J.

Two weeks ago I went to clean the house without my friend, and although I had not yet met Mr. J personally, I intended to give him the book. Why? I’m not sure. But I knew I had to. I made it a point to clean the kitchen while Mr. J was in the breakfast nook reading the paper. I was a little intimidated, judging by his home and things in it, he was obviously a man of substance, and I wasn’t sure how he would react to a strange cleaning lady giving him a book.

But I struck up a conversation with him, and he turned out to be very entertaining, as well as mentally sharp. He told me his life story, and it turns out he was sweet and unassuming. His wife liked to throw parties and hold bridge club, and he adored her and indulged her throughout their marriage. They were happy. I gave him the book and he was very thankful, and I think he liked having someone to talk to besides just his wife. I finished cleaning and felt a weight lifted from my shoulders because I had finally delivered the book. Before I left he presented me with a book of his own, and I brought it home, where Robert and I began to read it together.

I went back today for their scheduled cleaning, and was a little nervous about avoiding Mr. J, because we haven’t gotten that far into the book. I meant to read a few pages so I would have something to talk to him about if it came up, but didn’t get around to it. I planned to just stay busy and give him vague answers if he asked how the reading was coming.

The gardener was there when I arrived a little late, and she was ringing the bell to collect her pay as I walked up with my cleaning bucket. “Guess it’s a work day today huh?” I made small talk. “Yeah, she’s having a big event this weekend,” replied the gardener. Mrs. J came to the door and gave the gardener some cash, and invited me in.

I wondered what kind of party she was planning, and if I would have extra chores or different chores to help her prepare for the festivities. I put my supplies down and asked her where she wanted me to start.

She was flustered, and started to say something a couple of times then stopped. Finally she spoke.

“My husband died on Tuesday.”

I didn’t know what to say.

“But he started reading the book you gave him. He really liked it.” she said. I was stunned. He was old but had seemed in good health. Then I remembered the book was kind of intense in some places, and wondered if it had been too much for him. I shouldn’t have cared as much as I did, but for some reason I was very sad.

She was concerned about the dirty screen door, and asked for my help putting the covers on the couch and love seat. She asked me not to go into the master bedroom and bathroom, as they were still dealing with his things. Now, as a cleaner, many times people complain about “missing a spot,” and sometimes that irritates me. But today, I realized that Mrs. J could care less about spots on the mirrors or a streak on the floor. But I cared. I had a strong desire to make her home the best it has ever been, and I scrubbed the decorative iron screen door until my fingers ached.

She asked me about the book he gave me. I told her he picked it out for me, and as it turned out my stepson and my fiancé were both interested in it. I assured her that it would be passed on.

“Well, that’s good. It’s like he’s still going on then.” She said.

Now I know why I was directed to give him the book. He got some joy out of it, and now his book will make the rounds to everyone I know. I’m glad I listened to the voice within. I’m sure Mr. J is loving the great Library in the Sky.

I’ve always said that cleaning houses is about making people feel comfortable, and making their lives a little easier. Today I moved through the house quietly cleaning, privy to the intimate goings-on of a grieving family making final preparations for their father. And my heart broke for Mrs. J. As I walked past her open bedroom door, the bed, which was always immaculately made, was unmade. Mr. J’s side was mussed up. The book I gave him sitting on his nightstand. How long would it be before she would change the sheets and wash the smell off his pillow?

Every fingerprint I wiped off the mirror I realized I was erasing a memory. Every footprint I vacuumed over was one less part of him in the house. The water cup he had knocked over last week and spilled all over her, which had caused a tiff between them as I cleaned it up, was sitting on the kitchen counter. Half full. I suspect it will remain there for a long time…

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June 8, 2017 - Posted by | Uncategorized

1 Comment »

  1. as usual you make the ordinary sound extraordinary–I felt like I was there with you.

    Comment by Janet | June 9, 2017 | Reply


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