I think it must be part of the genetic makeup of Italian-American “housewives” over 50. If in fact it isn’t, I sure can site several cases that make this premise at least worth considering. The gene to which I refer causes these ladies to keep a spotless or near spotless home, inside and out. Take my wife, Luann, for example. We have been married for 43 years and throughout this time she has kept to her housekeeping tasks religiously. We are polar opposites in this regard. I may be described as “neatness challenged.” My office is cluttered but I know exactly where things are. This bothers her, so she pops in once a week to “straighten things out.” Also, while I may see no need to check on areas that aren’t the least bit used, that’s not the way her mother taught her to take care of a house. Each room is cleaned on a particular day. The fact that she could easily skip a week is of no consequence. She was taught that if you take care of the area routinely, it will never get bad enough to cause a problem. I’m really not complaining since living in a messy home would be much worse. It just has taken me a long time to appreciate her efforts and all of the work that it entails.
But Luann has had lots of company among our family and friends.
Her late paternal Grandmother Lucy and her late Aunt Grace were neighborhood legends when it came to cleanliness. Mother and daughter, they lived together in a tiny rowhome on the 900 block of Fernon Street in South Philadelphia. The home was built well over 100 years ago and was designed with some of the unique characteristics of that time. Among them were the four white marble steps that led into the front of the house. When weather permitted, Granny would clean those steps each week while bending over with her firm bristled scrub brush. She never did it the easy way, with a mop and a bucket, because she said the scrub brush method made the steps look nicer. Besides, if she was going to sit outside on the steps in the evening, she wanted them to be as clean as possible. But that was only one of Granny’s exploits. Even well into her 80s she would sit on her second floor bedroom windowsill while leaning out to clean the glass. When my father in law would go to visit, it wasn’t uncommon for a neighbor to grab him to express concern that she’d someday fall out. However, neither he nor Grace could stop Granny from her appointed rounds! By the way, she died at age 94 of natural causes and reports that she was buried with her scrub brush were never actually confirmed!
And then there was Gracie, who was no slouch in the cleaning department. Although seriously ill for many years, she generally took care of the inside of the house. The mirrors, carpet, kitchen floors bathrooms and walls were always spotless. I remember after I signed the lease for our first apartment in Delaware County, Pennsylvania. I would have the apartment for about a month, prior to our May 31, 1975, wedding and of course, would live there myself until our wedding night. In those days and in our families, cohabitation prior to marriage was not even a consideration. That month would give me the opportunity to fix the nice two-bedroom place up in preparation for the big move-in. Luann would come over on Saturdays to perform some house prep duties as required. One day she brought Aunt Gracie, who upon taking one look at the kitchen stove, oven and exhaust fan expressed horror, then rolled up her sleeves and transformed those greasy appliances into clean and shining fixtures that would be well suited for use in any hospital kitchen.
Finally, I’m pleased to relate the accomplishments of our dear, departed friend Edith LaCava. Edith was the wife of my dear friend, the late Dr. Joe LaCava, a well-loved South Philly neighborhood dentist at 1421 Wolf St. We loved them like family and were honored to have them stand as godparents to our son. JOe Joe maintained his dental office in his home and Edith made sure his facility was germ free and sparkling. The appearance of the office area aside, what impressed Luann and me the most was what she did in a different area of the house. Upon our visits, we would naturally end up in the kitchen for tea and pastries. We’d love to stop at one of the many local bakeries and bring over some pizzelles or biscotti to help move the conversation along! Upon entering the kitchen, you could not help but be struck by the beautiful white metal cabinets that adorned the walls. She kept those cabinets so clean that you’d almost need to reach for your sunglasses when she turned on the kitchen lights! When we would sit down, I would occasionally tease Edith and say the cabinets were going to give me migraines or cause blindness in my old age. She would just laugh and give that little smile that showed that she understood the veiled compliment I was paying her.
It was obvious, with all of these ladies, that the pride they took in their homes was something that couldn’t be disguised.
Charlie Sacchetti is the author of the book “It’s All Good … Times and Events I’d Never Want to Change.” Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org