One summer Kathy and I persuaded Mom and Dad to pay us what they were paying the maid to clean the house . As teenagers we figured we were old enough to know how to run a mop and broom. Plus, we wanted the money. We didn’t really ever get an allowance that I remember. My mother was great at anticipating our daily needs and Dad seemed to have a special connection to my expressed desire to someday own a horse. Which one day appeared. But spending money to keep in our pockets? Coins that jingled as well as our spurs? We didn’t have it. And besides—we didn’t want coins, we wanted bucks. And housecleaning was where the money was.
We were not wealthy by any means other than having loving parents who both worked full time jobs, a rarity in that neighborhood. Most of our friends’ mothers stayed at home. My parents were two very different human beings who agreed as one that they wanted to raise happy children. So, they agreed to our plan, with the stipulation that everything had to be clean by the time they arrived at 5 pm each day.
Clean is a relative term to teenagers, and one day we asked ourselves “Where is the manual for cleaning?” Not finding any, (mostly because we hadn’t looked), we decided to make it a community affair. One technique we came up with was us pouring out warm sudsy water on the kitchen floor, and then having a few friends come screaming down the hall and sliding across the floor, trying not to fall before they hit the wall. Who said mopping had to be done with a mop? This was great fun, until we realized that dishwasher soap is not floor cleaning soap, and left a residue. We were at a loss regarding how to get rid of the residue, so we brought in bathroom rugs from the two bathrooms and placed them strategically in front of the stove, the dishwasher, the refrigerator right before Mom got home.
My mother, knowing something was up, asked us what was with the rug look, and we told her we thought it might ease the strain of her having to stand on a cold hard floor while she was cooking supper.
Somehow she sensed, as mothers do, that this scheme had involved more than just us. We had vowed to remain silent on the subject, but apparently one of the kids across the street told his mom about how much fun he had sliding across the floor at the Jones’ house, and had only fallen once, not even breaking his arm.
My father was out of town at the time, fortunately for us. Mom looked at us, took out the money she “owed us,” and promptly put it into the cookie jar. She then got out the phone and called “Maria, when can you come back to help us clean?” That was the last of that.
Perhaps I may have also told you that one time my father drove up from out of town and thought we had been robbed. He yelled “Kids, get in the car! Someone may still be in the house!” We promptly ran and got into his car, which was not easy given that he always drove two seater sports cars for work. We asked “Daddy, why do you think we’ve been robbed?” He said “I came in and clothes were strewn everywhere. Drawers were pulled open. Jewelry was on the floor. Even towels were on the patio!” Kathy and I just looked at each other and said “We were just preparing to clean the house, and that’s our way of determining what really needs to be done.”
That almost cost us horse riding privileges for the summer. Fortunately, Dad and Mom had a great sense of humor. For some reason they both loved having animals in the house, so we did get off easy as far as pristine cleanliness was concerned. When I say animals in the house I don’t just mean dogs or cats. I mean rabbits. Frogs. Hamsters. Two aquariums. We were even training our Welsh pony to open the kitchen door and walk inside when Mom finally put a halt to that.
Her concern was that the horse might slip on the newly suds-ed kitchen floor.
Another summer memory was us walking up to the neighborhood pool, just the three of us kids, Kathy, Joe and me. We all knew how to swim by then and there was a lifeguard always on duty so our summers, once we were about ten and older, were pretty much unsupervised during the day. We lived at the pool.
We would walk along the small grassy ditch bank that ran between the houses, sometimes dragging our towels behind us. If someone had gone through and mowed the Johnson grass sometimes the remaining tall stubble would cut through our rubber flip flops. That was a pain I remember.
But onward we would trudge, the half mile or so to the pool—enter the big steel gate, and take our places for the day. Kathy and I loved to go to the sunny side of the pool, while younger Joe liked to hang out in the covered club house area. I tease my sister to this day that she wanted to be in the sunny area so she’d have a better line of sight to the lifeguard stand, whose tanned and unshirted occupants were perhaps her earliest teen crushes.
What I remember is diving into the cold blue water, swimming a few laps, and then climbing right back out onto the burning hot cement, splashing pool water over the area to prepare a place for me to lie down. Then I would lie down and place my head sideways on the towel and just feel the water turned warm under my body. The smell of chlorine on wet cement is still my favorite perfume, right up there with the sweat on a horse’s neck. I kid you not. Can’t buy it.
But I remember it to this day.
Dad would come to the pool when he got off work and proceed to coach us on our diving technique. He had ambitions for us kids regarding athletics. It took him a summer or two before we convinced him that swimming was not our forte, nor diving. But there did happen to be a tennis court nearby, so after the pool closed in the summer we began to meet at the courts to learn. The serve. The volley. The backhand. Forehand line shots. Lobs. You name it. It became his second career, preparing Kathy and I for scholarships. Joe, his only son, was smart enough to opt out of the athletics regimen for the most part, preferring to focus on girls and music.
I remember home made ice cream at Rosedale pool parties, and sparklers and fireworks on the Fourth of July. Dad was eventually elected president of the Association, a proud day for us all.
I hit my first and only tree while driving as a teenager in the Rosedale parking lot. Dad didn’t get too mad about that either, since the tree was not damaged. Also because Kathy said it was her fault. She was always covering for me. I think he knew that, but didn’t try to probe too deeply about the crime. After all, his mantra every night at dinner was “What is the funniest thing that happened to you today?”
If we could make a joke out of it, we got points, no matter how large the dent was, or the loss of the game was, or how many new baby rabbits had been born. My Dad just seemed to take it all in stride. While Mom said her happiest memories were watching us kids out with the new horses, getting tossed in the air like popcorn, and then climbing right back up again, to get it right in the saddle this time.