Our mother loved to smoke. It was one of her favorite hobbies. She usually had a cloud of smoke around her head and looked pretty scary. It was never a good idea to be around her if she had run out of cigarettes. Without her nicotine fix, she was unbearable. Of course, it was our fault if she had no Pall Malls.
One summer afternoon our dad’s Minnesota relatives arrived for a visit. A few of them also enjoyed cigarettes. They began to smoke and looked around for an ashtray. The ashtray was overflowing and they didn’t know where to dump their ashes. Our uncle said something to Mother about the need for a clean ashtray and she promptly grabbed the overflowing one and dumped the contents behind the couch. This made quite an impression on them all and became another tale of her allergy to cleaning.
When we knew we might have company, Mother would always wax the kitchen floor. The problem was that she did not scrub the floor first. She just put the wax down, smeared it around and waited for it to dry. The floor was shiny all right but not clean. Doing this routinely meant over the years there were huge layers of dirt covered by wax. This kind of cleaning did not earn our mother the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval.
But, growing up in a household with a mother who considered cleaning anathema to her gave my sister and I an appreciation for keeping our houses clean at all times. As was so often the case, we learned from Mother’s behavior and habits…and what we learned was to do exactly the opposite of what she did. My sister and I both picked up on this manner of learning by observation at an early age and it served us well with both our mother and, later, with our stepmother.