Give her of the fruit of her hands; and let her own works praise her in the gates.Proverbs 31:31
How many people do you know, that without hesitation could say, “I am doing exactly what I want with my life?” How does the old adage go? “Do what you love, and you’ll never work another day in your life.” I am living my dream. I always knew that this is what I wanted to do with my life, and looking back I see how God has ordered my steps, and ultimately landed me this sweet gig. In my early years, there were plenty of signs pointing me toward my life’s work, but none stand out quite as much as the story which I am about to unfold.
I have many fond memories of growing up in a family with two saintly parents, and eleven less than perfect siblings. There were scads of older brothers, a couple of older sisters and me. I spent nine glorious years as the youngest, until, for no apparent rhyme or reason, God decided to bless (cough…cough) my parents with another girl child. I was subsequently demoted to “number eleven of twelve,” previously known as “the baby” of the family. At this point, you may be picturing a gigantic house with rooms full of happy well fed children like we find in the classic movie “Cheaper by the Dozen.” Or, depending on your upbringing, you are envisioning a broken down shanty with a bunch of barefoot rabble-rousers, as portrayed by “Ma and Pa Kettle.” As for me, I recall it being somewhere in the middle of those two concepts. We fit all the stereotypes of both families, and we managed to create a few of our own.
We did not live in a big house, but instead we lived in every square inch of our modest four bedroom cape cod. We had a pretty good routine of cleaning up once a day during the school year, with mom doing most of the heavy cleaning on weekends while her children were off playing. As long as you did not get in her way, she was content to tidy up without the help of her oversized family. I’m sure my older brothers and my much older sister would dispute my recollection of this version of my mother, but I was, after all, her favorite. My memories might be different than those of my aged siblings. I do recall one miserable chore that my mother always assigned to me and me alone, (after my demotion of course) and it was a thorn in my flesh throughout all of my early years.
You see, the architect of our humble abode added both an enclosed front porch AND an enclosed back porch. Now you’re asking yourself, “What possible pain could two closed in porches cause this poor unwitting child?” Well, it wasn’t the porches, per se, but all the natural light -otherwise known as windows. Not the modern, practically self-cleaning windows of this present age, but old, wooden single-pane windows of yesteryear. They came complete with two storm windows and a screen. It wasn’t a couple of windows; there were an abundance of those loathsome things. Both porches were lined from side to side and front to back with window after window. To add to my misery, my parents heated with a kerosene furnace or a wood stove all the days of my youth. Not only did it leave a film of black soot on the walls and floors, but the soot presented itself on every window of that two-story cape cod. If that weren’t enough, our house was positioned near the side of a dusty dirt road. Throughout the summer months, every time a car would race by our home, billows of dust and dirt would be sent swirling and twirling toward our open windows, leaving a thick layer of dust on the screens and casements. We didn’t use an air conditioner because we lived outside of town on the top of a hill, and it was always ten degrees cooler on the hill than it was in town. At least that’s what mom always said. She was right about one thing, it was ten degrees cooler in the summer, but it was more like thirty degrees cooler in winter. She said we needed the fresh air anyways, and the colder temperatures chased away the flu bugs. Somehow they always managed to find us before winter ended in July. And the flies -the masses and masses of huge, country houseflies- would collect in the corners, cracks and crevices of each one of those window sills. Forgive me for the over dramatization. I was trying to tell the story from the perspective of a tween. You know how over dramatic they tend to be. So, yes, you guessed it, my one wretched chore was cleaning windows. In my mind I did it once a year, but truthfully it was probably only a couple of times in my life, but the subsequent nightmares I had about it must have filled in the gap years. In the end it only took that one time to set me on the path which led to where I am today.
I’m a little foggy as to what happened next, but somehow I ended up standing in front of one of those porch windows with a spray bottle in one hand, newspaper in the other and a vacuum cleaner at my feet.
It happened one summer day when I made the dreaded mistake of making eye contact with my mother, while she was contemplating how she would spend the rest of her day. Out of nowhere she blurted out the dreaded words,
“I want these windows cleaned today.”
It was like a bolt of lightning sending a cold chill down my spine. My mind started racing,
“How dare she even ask such a thing? There are laws against using your children as slaves, and I’m pretty sure she is breaking at least one of them. I am not going to stand for this.”
“Fine,” I grumbled, “I’ll wash your windows.”
But under my breath I muttered, “I’m not going to do a good job.”
I stomped from the room in true rebel form, slammed a few cupboard doors, and felt a sense of relief when the bottle of cheap window cleaner lay empty under the sink. Ah, sweet justice! I grabbed the empty bottle, and proceeded back to the living room, clutching it in my hand triumphantly.
“There’s no window cleaner anyway,” I added, with a slight undertone of victory permeating my every word.
I plopped myself back down on the couch to finish The Price is Right. I barely even noticed when she retrieved the bottle from my then lifeless hand and headed to the kitchen. In a few minutes she returned with a spray bottle full of something and a hand full of newspapers. She started chattering on about some crazy story involving vinegar, water and newspaper. I’m a little foggy as to what happened next, but somehow I ended up standing in front of one of those porch windows with a spray bottle in one hand, newspaper in the other and a vacuum cleaner at my feet. After I rattled myself from denial, I raised my voice and said,
“Someday, I’m going to have twelve kids and make them do all my work.”
“Oh, you are? Are you? She snickered and said, “I hope they are all like you.”
Somehow I had a sense that I had just been cursed. Would I really want a house full of lazy kids to do my bidding? By the time the job was completed, I discovered that I had kind of a knack for keeping things clean and organized. Somewhere deep inside I was pleased with the job I had done.
In the days, weeks and even years to come, this was one of mom’s favorite stories. She told it to my friends, her friends, teachers, pastors, and complete strangers at the grocery store. She embellished her version by adding,
“I have never seen those windows sparkle as clean as they did the day she used vinegar and newspaper to clean them.”
Of course, over the years, a few of the tag lines changed. She started telling people I was going to have twelve kids and “not make them do any work.” She mostly liked to tell that account to my husband and my overworked children. Luckily that version never came to fruition, just like the mantra I repeated over and over again during that ordeal –“I’m going to live in a house with no windows!”
I could choose to believe that all of this happened out of pure coincidence, but I would rather believe that an Almighty God was marking my words, and preparing me for my dream job. Many years later, I am standing at the tail-end of my life, looking back over the years and praising God for my big, beautiful family, and praising my mother for all the practical experience she gave me before I embarked on my own journey. I have even been known to throw together a bottle of vinegar and water in a pinch, in order to get my windows clean. However, I don’t think I will ever look at a newspaper again, without smelling vinegar and hearing my mother tell this story.