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The Beautiful Victorian

By Susan Thom (USA)


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When my kids were small, I tried to think of a way to make some extra money. Their father was home for two weeks, and away at work for two weeks. He was a merchant seaman on an oil boat in Lewes, Delaware. Our relationship was strained, and I wanted to find something I could do for the two weeks he was home, and then, be off the two weeks he was away. A "normal" nine to five daily job for me was not feasible, besides, what did I know how to do? What would people need? Could I run errands for people who worked? Grocery shopping? Laundry? They could drop off their smelly clothes, and pick them up, clean and fresh as a summer's breeze. Would I really want to reach into a bag of dirty clothes, and pull out someone's underwear? I didn't want to take kids in, my three were quite debilitating on their own! Ironing? I hated ironing, and wasn't so good at it, but it was a thought. Of course, burning someone's favorite pants suit never entered my mind. I placed an ad in the local paper for ironing. Hey, what could it hurt? If nobody answered, I'd be no worse off. I guess I forgot about the dry cleaners in town.

As the bills piled up, I was becoming more and more frustrated. One day, I got "the" call. Only the woman wasn't looking for anyone to iron. She was interested in someone to clean her house, which was right up my alley. Everyone told me I was a clean freak, and I was good at it. Thorough, careful, not afraid to put my whole body into the job at hand. I could do that. We set up an appointment to meet at her home the next day. After we met, I had the job. She would work with my schedule. I would clean the two weeks my husband was home, and skip the other two.

Built in 1829, her home was a beautiful Victorian, with one hundred and fifty years of memories. And one or two hundred and fifty year old spirits floating around. She gave me the whole tour, while I looked around in wonderment. White laced curtains adorned every window. Oak pocket doors in the dining room and living room, with large beveled glass windows. A huge porch that started in the front, and wrapped around the side. Wide oak planked floors throughout, with exquisite oriental rugs in each room. All the furniture was antique, and I had never seen such intricacies and designs. Mahogany tables with claw feet, a tapestry couch, frames with ornate wood carvings. Mirrors that were so old, you couldn't see yourself in them. A huge shiny black piano filled a corner of the front living room. All walls were painted white, and the family room had built in closets with glass panes in the doors, and old fashioned locks. The small galley kitchen had a steep and tiny set of stairs going up to this woman's bedroom and bath. The main staircase was second only to the one in Gone with the Wind. A huge, dark wood column at the bottom, with a round swirling top and spindles all the way up the banister. A plush pink rug hugged the stairs. There were 4 bedrooms and a bath on the second floor. Her daughter's bedroom was big, with a fireplace, and an adjoining room for guests. In that room, there was a daybed and a carousel horse, with a golden pole. It was whimsical and enchanting at the same time. The next room was used as an office, with antique trinkets adorning yet another mantle and fireplace. Dolls, and clowns, and rabbits, and old pictures in old frames. A beautiful wooden desk with a piece of glass lying on top. And the woman's bed had a white puffy down comforter, and pink flowery wallpaper that looked old fashioned. There was a claw foot tub in the bathroom, and a white pedestal sink. A wooden closet with shelves was a makeshift medicine chest. We weren't finished our tour yet. There was a third floor, the attic. It was one big room, with a rocking chair that had a habit of rocking on it's own. Sometimes it was used for an art room, all the materials left for the next impulse to create. Brushes and paints of all colors, and plenty of big white paper, and an easel. Other times it was used as a workout room. A round window let the sun shine in and warmed the whole area.

I was in awe of the majesty of this home. I had never been around so many beautiful antique pieces of furniture, and knick knacks. All the windows had magnificent wood moldings. I appreciated the round swirls in the top corner squares. My home was new, and had no moldings at all. There were three massive fireplaces in all. Grand and welcoming. The original wooden Indian shutters kept the cold out of the front living room. I couldn't imagine that I would be cleaning this historical piece of art. I started the next week.

I had the home all to myself, and I enjoyed every minute. Cleaning was instant satisfaction for me. I could see my work in progress. The lines in the carpet, the furniture shining, no dust to be seen. The Wolf stove glistening, dishwasher and microwave clean, and the kitchen counter shining. It made me feel good about myself to know my own hands and hard work made everything look neat and polished. It was a lot of physical, hard work, but it had its’ gratifications, plus the money was helping out my family. My kids were small at this time. My daughter was six, and my son was four years old. I was lucky to have found something I could do when their father was home to take care of them. My daughter was in first grade, but my son needed to get back and forth to preschool. I was usually just getting home as her bus was pulling up.

I took a couple of years off to have my third and final child, a son, and then went right back to "The Beautiful Victorian", and some other jobs I also got through this woman. Within a short time, I had eight houses to clean. All in the two weeks I had a built in babysitter. For the other two weeks, I was alone, and it was harder than cleaning! It was almost a relief to get out of the house and be surrounded by different items in each family’s home. No babies needing to be fed and changed, no preschoolers needing to be driven and picked up, no bus to meet at the end of the driveway. My cleaning jobs were like my own little "getaways." It was a form of meditation compared to what I faced at home. And when I was done with each house, I would go through, make sure I didn’t leave any rags or polish around, and I could see the beauty I had created out of the dust and dirt. My husband would clean our home the best he could while I was at work, and I got to all the rest when I was on, and he was back at his job. It was a cycle for about eight years, but I was still young enough to handle it all. I was in my mid thirties, and now, at fifty, I shutter to think of having to do it all over again. It was good in its time, but cleaning houses can be very draining, and even though their dad was with them, my kids knew when "Mommy" got home!

The first time I cleaned The Victorian, I was in for a little surprise. The vacuum was a long, rectangular canister. As I started in the living room, I wondered if I could ever finish! What had I gotten myself into? And was the rocking chair going to be still when I got up to the attic? I had never done anything like this before. I was very nervous. And the woman was at work, so I was alone in this beautiful beast of a home. I started to vacuum, and got to the piano, and needed to plug in to another outlet. I turned to see where one was, and I was struck with terror. There, in the planked floor, the whole path of where I had just dragged the vacuum, were deep indentations in the wood.

My heart began to pound out of my chest. I started to sweat, and panic. "What do I do? What do I do?" I couldn't think straight. All my thoughts were racing. I tried to calm myself. I eventually accepted that the next 6 months to a year, this woman would be getting her cleaning done for free. How could I have ruined her gorgeous floor? I turned the vacuum over. I could see no signs of anything that could have done such damage. The trail matched the wheels. I thought maybe a piece of steel was sticking out, something had to make those marks, but I found nothing. I decided to continue cleaning, and when Maria came home, I would have to tell her what I did. I felt like I had the flu for the rest of the time I was there. Dry sweats, cold sweats, panic, queasy stomach, calming words to myself, then panic again. I kept going back to inspect the area, hoping one of the times, those ruts would be gone. Four hours later, I was done.

Everything sparkled, there wasn't a speck of dust anywhere. And the rocking chair had stayed still. Had it not been for my mishap, it would have been a great first day on the job. I heard the back door open, and the panic set in with my heart waiting to jump out and run, I had to tell Maria what happened and the only way I knew was to be straightforward and honest. She called to me to let me know she was home. I told her I was in the living room. I don't remember saying that, but I must have, because all of a sudden, there she stood. "Maria, I am really sorry, but somehow, I put these ruts in your floor. I will pay to have it fixed." "What ruts?" she asked. "These, by the piano." "Oh, they did that when they brought the piano in!"

Relief is a bland word to describe how I felt. Elated, revived, exhilarated, thankful, and embarrassed. I had let my mind wander to a scary place, for no reason, but my own anxiety. I had talked myself into thinking I had done something I did not do! I cleaned that stunning Victorian for 7 or 8 more years, never having another self induced mishap! I even got to witness the rocking chair moving slowly, back and forth, all by itself. It was a little eerie, yet it didn't scare me. There was a sense of calm in this enchanting home, no hint of ill will. And I'm still friends with Maria.

My kids are sixteen, nineteen, and twenty one now, and I am going through a divorce. I have Crohn’s, an autoimmune disease, and that makes it too draining to clean houses anymore. However, I am back with my childhood sweetheart, after twenty three years, and he lives with my kids and I, and we are trying to get through this divorce, and then get on with our lives. Cleaning was a good avenue to take for me. However, now, I just stick to cleaning my own house!