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Sense and Nonsense: Eleanor had it right all along about housework

May 20, 2013

By Lynda Hollenbeck, senior editor

First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt is credited with having this to say about housework: "Personally, I never devote more than 15 minutes a day to it."
I consider the statement a mark of her intelligence and am surprised that she actually would have spent even that much time on such menial activity.
Few people choose housework as a form of recreation. One notable exception would have been my late mother who in her prime could get absolutely exhilarated anything that0 needed the spit-and-polish treatment.
She was so enthusiastic about such projects that my late spouse swore she had served as the model for the artist's drawing of the little old scrubbing lady on the Dutch Cleanser can.
Mamma ranked cleaning out closets and rearranging kitchen cupboards above most social events. Also high on her list was purging the contents of the refrigerator, which, when she did so at my house, could put fear in my heart. Anything she hadn't prepared herself was tossed "because it might not be good."
I once used these activities as examples of the basic differences between us. Where such projects would leave her feeling absolutely exalted, I would be exhausted.
I contend there is no harder work, none more demanding, none so never-ending, none harder on body and soul than housework.
There was a time that a particular incident led me to receive documented proof I was right on that.
A bane of my existence since my teenage years has been a not-so-good back. During one period in which it was causing me appreciable grief, the physician treating me provided proof positive that housework is hazardous to one's health — specifically my health.
Said doctor put his orders in a note I was to show to anyone who didn't accept my verbal accounting of my restrictions. There was to be "no sweeping, no vacuuming, no mopping, no raking, et cetera and so forth."
The words were music to my ears.
The basic problem with this kind of edict is that it limits what can be done in the immediate future, and I've always been a person who, if I want something done, I want it done now. Not in an hour or a day. Not tomorrow. But now, now, now.
My husband described me this way: "If she wants the piano moved and no one's there but her, then she'll move the piano."
It's hard to change such patterns. I don't have the particular back injury that I had when the doctor listed all the housework no-no's, but I do have the same back. I know better than to do a lot of lifting; I will pay the penalty if I do. So, what has to wait can wait, it would seem.
In my mythical ideal family structure, I would fulfill my lifelong fantasy and have a live-in maid, along with a live-in cook and live-in beauty operator — uh, hairstylist, I've been told to say. All would be welcome as long as they didn't make me talk when I didn't want to be disturbed and just generally stayed invisible.
It's their usefulness I'm after, not their company.
It's not that I'm lazy about housekeeping matters. I just have other interests and other areas in which I excel, none of which include cooking, cleaning and hairstyling.
However, I do have high standards, which present a problem. It would be better to just not care about appearances in the house or my person, but that's not the case.
I've pondered this issue and can see my dilemma being solved by any one of the following scenarios:
•I will learn to be patient, which would entail a complete alteration of behavior, and wait for a drop-in relative to take care of all the housework.
•I will be blessed suddenly with a fairy godmother who can twitch her nose or some other body part to take care of my chores.
•A tribe of elves will cease baking cookies in hollow trees and come work for me.
•I will answer the door and find a man named Michael bearing a cashier's check for $1 million that I'm being given by multi-millionaire philanthropist John Beresford Tipton. With this document in hand, I could hire all the people I need to make my fantasies come true.
Something tells me not to hold my breath.

Lynda Hollenbeck is senior editor of The Saline Courier.
lyndahol@yahoo.com

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