Cleaning Day

Today, as I sit near my closet, trying to separate the junk from the valuables, I am reminded of the method my mother applied to cleaning out her closets. In the first place, she had to be in the mood. “In the mood” for her meant that she had no outside distractions such as the sun shining or the rain pouring down or the television playing a marathon of old Beverly Hillbillies shows. Looking back, it probably also meant having a few good, stiff drinks to get her “in the mood” to do what she called “cleaning.”

Bottle of Jack DanielsOnce all of her conditions had been met, she began by dragging everything out into the middle of whatever room she was working on. She could empty closets faster than Homer Simpson could empty doughnut boxes. Zip, she had everything in one big pile. Mother thought that was pretty fun, but the next step was not so much fun.

What should she keep? And, more importantly, what should she do with all this shit? She should have made three piles–save, pitch and consider carefully; but this was Mother, and she couldn’t make those types of decisions. If it was something belonging to my sister or me, it was easily tossed away. If it was something of hers, then it stayed. Most of the stuff stayed because she had usually forgotten to buy trash bags, and besides she really didn’t enjoy trying to organize anything. Cleaning always took longer than the time she had allocated and that frustrated her too. Most of the time, it was easier just to shove everything back into the space it was previously occupying. Yikes! Like Scarlet O’Hara in Gone with the Wind, she would think about that “tomorrow.”

Falling Down the Wedding CakeHowever, sometimes instead of putting everything away, she  became totally disgusted and walked away from whatever mess she had made. This behavior was in many ways a metaphor for her life in general. Whenever life got too messy, she walked away. Mother walked away from her children, her husbands, and many friends along the way. It was easier to start over rather than try to fix whatever was wrong. She was often heard saying “I’ve out-grown” this friend or that, or this interest or another one. Her favorite description of someone she was no longer in contact with was

They are so shallow.

Eventually her sister and most of the rest of her family were put in the “Discard” pile.

My sister Lindy and I were in and out of the “Discard” pile throughout our lives. She never enjoyed us when she lived with us, and once she moved to California, she was not at all concerned about her children as they managed to finish high school, graduated from college, get married and have babies. All with hardly a word from Mother.

Welcome HillbilliesWhen she moved to southern Indiana (or as my sister Lindy calls it “Hillbilly Heaven”), she sent us mixed messages. She sent enormous packages of gifts for Christmas, and she acted as though she looked forward to our yearly visits. We would arrive at her home and within forty five minutes or less, she would have started making her cutting remarks. She usually concluded the visit by saying that she didn’t care if we came back or not.  Sometimes it appeared that the only reason she wanted us to come down was so that she could tell her “friends” of the moment

My children took me to the café.

On one occasion, we all went to the little joint for biscuits and gravy because that was what her friend’s daughter had done for her. My sister had a brilliant idea which was for our mother to tell all her “friends” (all one or two of them) that we had been down and that we had taken her all over town. Mother could even embellish her story more and say that we came down twice a year or even every month. If our only reason for coming down was so that she could brag to her friends, maybe we could have the bragging without the pain of the visit.

I thought this was a brilliant proposal, but it actually did not get off the ground. When dealing with a crazy person such as Mother, it is extremely hard to predict how they will react. In this case, naturally, she did not think that skipping our annual sojourns to Indiana was a good idea, despite having told us earlier she could care less if we ever came back. And so my sister Lindy and I once again took the path of least resistance and kept making our yearly treks until the momentous time that Mother moved to Iowa.


  1. WoW!! That was some experience you shared! On the positive side you got a good education and you write beautifully…really! I can relate to Spring cleaning day…yup, 3 piles and it took forever! One day stretched to one week for one room but boy was it clean…when I did it I mean. My mom never did spring cleaning, her mother did it for her:)

    • Abby Adams says:

      Thanks for writing. It helps to hear about other people who have gone through what we have. Since my mother’s mother had died when she was 11, she had no one to model good parenting or good cleaning skills. She never managed to figure it out on her own. I hope you will keep reading!

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