I cleaned the toilet today.
As i twirled the toilet brush around and around making white the sides of the bowl- her words streamed through my mind.
“Oh and I don’t use a toilet brush. Don’t you just think they are absolutely terrible? They are never cleaned and just carry all that bacteria… Don’t you agree?”
Nineteen-years-old, working as a newbie cleaning lady, I found myself nodding. Of course I agreed, toilet brushes ARE disgusting, and seriously if this lady doesn’t want me to bother cleaning the inside of her toilet- I’m totally for it. I was agreeing enthusiastically when she handed me a rag.
“So I just clean it by hand then toss out the rag.”
Wait. Can I change what i said about toilet brushes? I LOVE the them. They are a bathroom revelation.
It’s funny the things you remember.
You know… when you forget how much your kids weighed at birth, what day to pick up your Mother-in-law from the airport, or that year you devoted to Music Theory. But somehow cleaning stories found a dusty corner in your brain and nestled in for long term.
I was nineteen and wanted to get a job working with elderly people. Turns out it was harder to get one than i thought. Somehow I ended up a cleaning lady for a business called “Senior to Senior”. The idea being that an older lady came to clean another older persons home. Thing was,
I wasn’t old.
In fact I sported a baby face making me look like I should still be in school. Which plenty of elderly ladies scolded me for. I’d ding the bell and they would open the door. “Yvonne? Oh my. Your much younger than I expected.” It’s my name right… “Shouldn’t you still be in school dear?”
There was a lady, who we later learned had Dementia, who sometimes wouldn’t let me in because she couldn’t remember me. Or threaten to not sign off on my competition form because, after all, she never called for a cleaning lady and if I wanted to clean her place who was she to stop me?
I once picked up a spoon in her kitchen and screamed as the bowl came with it.
Glued by stale milk.
She had a beautiful piano. Buried beneath stacks and stacks of newspapers and magazines. I polished it’s wood, where i could find it, and tried not to listen to it as it called out to me, screaming to be freed from its grave of unuse.
Mrs. Glass, a famous author for adventure Scottish books, was stuck in a little apartment way up on some floor I can’t remember. How did she write about the world, when her space was so confining? And she had a terrible vacuum.
The little old lady who always baked for me. She’d insist before I did the kitchen floors I had a glass of milk and one of her lemon squares. She taught me about vinegar and dish soap being the best floor cleaner. She also gave me her 5 bottles, because she thought I might like to spoil myself with a little something with the refund money.
One couple I cleaned for had a really fancy house. They reported that they didn’t like the way I cleaned the bathroom and wanted their old cleaning lady back. I’d missed cleaning the bathroom baseboards. My boss came with me and had them explain how they wanted things cleaned and they kept me on.
I hated it.
Every ornament I picked up to dust had me persperating. Then one sunny summer day they were sipping cool drinks on the patio with a friend over. On the other side of the balcony’s screen door I vacuumed the house. I was vacuuming around the corner in the living room, looking at one of their framed pictures, when I realized with instant horror my vacuum had just swallowed up the bottom of one of their shear curtains! “Crap, crap, crap!” I muttered shutting off the vacuum. I ran to the corner of the living room and peaked around the corner to see if they had heard. They were laughing sipping cool drinks, fluffing their white hair. I ran back flaming red, dripping with anxiety, to the drape devourer.
Somehow, painfully slow, I untangled it. I brushed it as clean as I could and moved on.
I never told them.
But, to this day, I always remember to clean my bathroom baseboards.
I wasn’t a very good cleaning lady. Some of my clients taught me how to do it properly, or how they liked it. Others, like this old guy who wanted the rust out of his toilet, thought I was a waste of money. Some took advantage of my youth and put me to good use weeding rock landscape, or doing two story houses in their 2hr time slot. But my boss took good care of me, and dealt with clients.
Some clients were simply fantastic! I remember strapping rags to my feet with this one couple and skating all around their house polishing hardwood floors with them!
He was like Mr. Wilson from Dennis the Menace. He was prickly, but I had a heart for him. He was terribly lonely. His wife had died, and he had nothing left except her many paintings to keep him company.
Oh and his Florida girlfriend who occasionally visited and he spent winters with. She wasn’t the settle down type.
Mr. Sanders will forever be in my memory. Reason being, he will probably be lonely till his death.
As sweet as he was in his prickly own way, He couldn’t forgive. He disowned (His words) his two children. Thing is, I don’t remember ONE of the “terrible”, “unforgivable” things his children did to him… although he told me over and over again.
I just remember watching with sadness and trying to explain to him- that it was Him that was suffering from his unforgiveness.
He was bitter. Lonely. And missing out big time.
When I get old (and suit my old-fashioned name in all its glory) I hope I bake lemon squares. Share my pop bottles, polish floors with little cleaning ladies, give hugs, and am busy pouring into family and many grand-kids. Maybe take them out for pancake breakfast on their birthday like my Grandparents always did.
Hope I treat people with value. Not objects or fancy curtains.
Forgiving even when I’m wronged, because “God demonstrated His perfect love for us- while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”* When Christ was being crucified, nailed to a cross with thorns on his brow- He pleaded with God to forgive them “for they know not what they do”.**
I can forgive because I’ve been forgiven.
Jesus didn’t wait till we said sorry. Or got our crap together. He gave everything for us. Sometimes we need to forgive even when we haven’t been asked.
For them… But also for us.
So I was thinking. Forgiveness is kinda like a toilet brush- making things all clean and sparkly white on the inside… till next week when you’re gonna have to go ahead and use that brush again…
Parting note: When I’m old I’ll probably be a real gem. I might break tradition and start stacking pianos on top of my newspaper.
* Romans 5:8
** Luke 23:34