Were she still alive, my mother and father would have celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary last week. Instead, I suppose each of my family members had his own quiet reflection, but the occasion got me to thinking about the past, especially when we were very young.
My brother and I got the better of my mother one time. It involved our allowances. I don't know if parents even dole out allowances anymore, but ours tended to be based on our completion of an amorphous, loosely-supervised series of "chores" that we were expected to complete each week, things like cleaning out the garage or the basement, maybe taking out the trash or raking leaves, and some other mix of ways to help out sometimes.
And then there were our beds. Neither one of us liked to make our beds, and we did so only very reluctantly. So, in order to encourage us, one day my mother informed us that she was going to dock our allowances a quarter every time we didn't make our beds and pick up our rooms (it does need to be clarified that a quarter was a decent amount of money back then; in fact, it was the exact cost of a full-size candy bar at the drugstore uptown where we would stop after school most days).
A quarter deducted from our allowances also had something of an impact. It was not insubstantial. But, here was the problem for my mother: both of us decided that it was worth it to lose $1.75 each week and never make our beds or straighten our rooms. Who knew that pre-teenage boys knew how to do a cost/benefit analysis of such sophistication? For several weeks, in her clear handwriting, she would include a sheet to go with our cash allowances that clearly showed what had been deducted. We accepted the money with a couple of shrugs, maybe even a smug comment or two. Maybe we even began learning how to budget.
Eventually, as parents do when they are beaten, she ordered us to make our beds, but that was never accomplished with any regularity for the rest of our childhoods.
Tonight, I spent the evening cleaning up a room in my basement, a room that some, including me, might call a "man cave," although the various women in my family spend plenty of time here, too. I ran the dishwasher twice, took out the recycling and the trash, scrubbed the countertops, vacuumed the floor, wiped away cobwebs, arranged the contents of cabinets, scraped off a table, put dishes away, sharpened knives and organized pots and pans.
It is all of the things that I do when I've done a lot of cooking at once and the space gets away from me, when I've been using any flat surface as a workspace, and when I need to take control of the room again.
To spend an evening engaging in these mundane activities has become an incredible pleasure of my later life. To have a place that I can get cleaned and organized and set up the way I want it so that, when someone else comes in, the space is accessible and inviting, is a rewarding use of time.
What is worse is that the physical act of cleaning, the evening with no goal greater than making a space tidy that will only become untidy again, not unlike a made bed which will only become unmade within a few, short hours, is its own, definable joy.
Who knew that my mother's revenge would be so complete? Now I realize that the unmade bed, the uncut grass, the untrimmed hedges, the unwashed clothes, the dirty dishes, the peeling paint, the cluttered car are all acceptable only to the carefree laziness of youth, and I no longer have that. No, now, anything that brings a certain order to a chaotic world seems both desirable and worthy of the time and effort. And though she might once have paid me for it, now I gladly do it for free.