Column: Don’t start with the books, when cleaning before guests arrive

Published 12:00 am Thursday, May 23, 2002

Hopeless, hopeless, hopeless! Tis myself I’m talking about. Wednesday if all goes well I’ll be greeting a house guest for several weeks, and another house guest for a couple of nights or so. Both of them, I promise you, lovely gifted women and among my favorite people.

It’s not exactly a surprise visit. We’ve been planning it for months. Now my mother by this time would have had the floors freshly waxed, the windows washed, the curtains laundered or dry-cleaned, a number of goodies cooked or baked and safely in the freezer, and the silver newly polished whether it needed it or not.

She also would have found flowers in the garden suitable for the table or purchased a plant that would have suited. She told me once that she would rather sit down at a table with no food on it than one with no flowers on it. She was perfectly sincere, I had not the slightest doubt of it. It did occur to me that if I were to sit down to a table on which rested flowers, but no food, I’d probably eat the flowers.

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I’m looking forward to my guests with great joy and many plans, including the possibility of doing a bit of housecleaning. Unfortunately my greatest cleaning problem centers around my books, which get back on the wrong shelf or no shelf at all. Too late I realize that I should have not started with the books. I tend to read books wherever or whenever I find them.

Unfortunately I had barely started separating the poetry from the prose when I came upon a small book modestly sheathed in a wallpaper cover, indicating to me that it must have been given to me by a friend who madly covered her books and the books of her friends in wallpaper. She, herself, was an excellent housekeeper. She frequently tried to cheer me about my own lack of skills in that direction by pointing out that my copper-bottomed pans were always shiny.

The name of the book by Alice L. James was &uot;Housekeeping for Two.&uot; I have no recollection of my friend either lending or giving the book to me. I’m inclined to believe that in an effort to be tactful she carried it over in her purse (it’s a very small book) and smuggled it in among my other books while I was out getting us a bit of tea.

Since I had never been properly introduced to the book, it seemed only proper that I immediately sit down and get on speaking terms with it. It seemed, showing up at this time, a bit like a hint from beyond. Unfortunately it was published first in 1907 and there’s been more that a little water under the bridge since then.

Anyway I gave it my full attention. Some of the bits of advice did make me realize how much better things are for women now. Among bits of advice I found:

“In sweeping any considerable space, it is better to sweep in sections, collecting the dust in little heaps, than to drag all the dirt over the entire floor. A final sweeping may take in the whole floor after the little heaps have been taken up.&uot;

About 12 pages are devoted to March housecleaning, with full instructions for banishing moths, roaches, bedbugs, mice, water bugs and the like. The whole process sounds so dangerous and so complicated that the obvious thing to do was to leave home and hire an exterminator.

Reading the book set me wondering about the cookbook given to my mother by my father’s mother. It had instructions for &uot;simple little Sunday night suppers&uot; of never less than seven courses.

If my mother hadn’t had a natural talent for cooking I don’t think the cookbook from my Grandmother Cruikshank would have been much help. It had marvelous pictures in it but directions were full of pinches of this and that, and handfuls of same, I haven’t much faith in anything that’s on the indefinite side.

One thing that delighted me about my newly discovered book is that among the recipes was one that appears to be for a cornstarch custard I enjoyed when a child. Everyone who made it is gone now and I was never able to find the recipe before.

No, the bookcase never did get really straightened. Nor has the rest of the house. I thank the powers that be for my tolerant and charitable friends.

Love Cruikshank is an Albert Lea resident. Her column appears every Thursday.