The Cleaning Lady

Before I met AJ I lived in St. Augustine. A friend turned me on to a  situation where an elderly woman was looking for someone to stay with her until her son, in Georgia, could finish the addition to his house, which was to be her new living quarters.

She lived in an historic cottage built by her parents in 1914. I agreed to live with and look after Mrs. Bowen until the time that her son would pick her up and take her to live with him. The entire period is rich with historical stories and the trials of moving in with a formerly independent woman who had been rendered incapable by the ravages of time and the frustrations of memory loss and confusion that come with being ninety-something years old.

Someday, I plan to share some details and photos of her illustrious life growing up in the Florida wilderness in the early 20th century. They are quite fascinating. The blip that I had this morning came to me as I was cleaning the knobs on the stove. I was taken back to the day when I went to cook dinner for Mrs. Bowen and realized that the numbers were missing from the knobs on her stove.

She explained, matter-of-factly, that the black cleaning lady who had served her for many years had done it out of spite. Based on my own brief experience in Mrs. Bowen’s employ, I quickly got a pretty clear picture of that event. I had already gotten a good sense of how Mrs. Bowen had grown up and spent her entire life believing that black people were a different species meant to be treated with kindness, but never to be considered as equals. This was a reality for her, just as this keyboard beneath my fingers is a reality for me.

I imagined being that tired cleaning woman, constantly prodded along by a perfectionist taskmaster, who never expressed satisfaction and never turned the thermostat below 84°. I imagined having my stove cleaning criticized by the condescending old woman, and rebelling with absolute compliance. “You don’t like the way I cleaned your stove? I’ll get those knobs cleaner than they’ve ever been.” And that she did.

Mrs. Bowen was a product of The Great Depression, and she wasn’t about to throw away a perfectly good stove just because there was no way to accurately set the temperature of the heating elements. It didn’t bother me much, since I’m a “cook by feel” person; but I always got a chuckle when I used that stove, as did I this morning when presented with this blip.


3 responses

5 09 2009
capt kym

So, did you clean the darn stove? Or stuff her in the oven and turn her into a big cookie? I’da tossed her overboard! kym

6 09 2009

Oh, I cleaned it many times. I may have dreamed of turning her into a cookie, but she really was a sweet old gal on the front end. The crankiness just oozed out through the cracks when you rubbed her the wrong way.

17 09 2009
capt kym

That’s ’cause yer just a sweetie your own self! Silly girl, sharks gotta eat too!
capt kym

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