Dusting off memories while sweeping away the dust bunnies

Published 10:45 pm Friday, March 23, 2012

The older I get, the less I enjoy housework.

These days it’s more of a chore than a necessary pleasure. And the most worrisome thing is dusting – stooping, bending, reaching, stretching, climbing, picking up and putting back down.

The bookshelves in the knotty den stretches the length of one wall and stands taller than I can reach. They are filled with hundreds of dust catchers and, if care is given to each one, it takes the better part of my Saturday morning.

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To pass the time, I’ve “took to talking” as my granny would say, to the loved ones in the photographs as I move about doing my chore.

Most days, I talk times with Mama and Daddy but sometimes I talk with my grandmothers and other family members who are no longer with us.

The other day, I picked up a photograph of Uncle Willie to wipe the dust from his place on the shelf.

Uncle Willie was a dirt road sport. He looked like Groucho Marx dressed in Beach Boy attire.

He’d come to play golf with Daddy wearing bright chartreuse Bermuda shorts held up with a white kid-skin belt, a red button-down shirt and yellow knee socks pulled up to his knobby knees. He would have on a straw hat with a multi-colored band around it.

Daddy would say, “Bleep, Willie, we’re going to have to put a pot over you so the sun can rise!”

Uncle Willie loved to aggravate Daddy and he did a real good job of it.

Then, there was my grandmother, Mugi.

She was a self-proclaimed nurse. She never had a single nursing course. She got her “degree” in the thrift store when she bought a white uniform, a nurse’s cap and white lace-up shoes. She “nursed” some mighty influential and prosperous folks in the Wiregrass area.

Mama said Mugi had “got above her raising” and she was sure that any day she would pick up the newspaper and see where Mugi had accidentally overdosed and killed someone in her care.

Mugi was rather crafty, though. She always conveniently left her change purse at home whenever we “dined out” as she called it.

One night, we were “dining out” with Uncle Willie and Aunt Eleanor and, when it came time to pay the bill, Mugi said, “Lawrd, have mercy, I forgot my change purse.”

“No, Minnie. I saw it on the kitchen counter and I brought it to you,” said Uncle Willie, flabbergasting her and delighting the rest of us.

Uncle Willie was the only one who could get Mugi’s “goat.”

Aunt Eleanor was a “social butterfly,” at least that’s what Daddy said.

She had all kinds of fancy clothes and jewelry with diamond and rubies … and a real fur coat. A fox fur, she called it. It even had the fox’s head on it.

One time, when I was staying with Aunt Eleanor and she was playing bridge with her lady friends. I slipped in her bedroom closet and put on that fox fur coat. It was so soft and pretty that I couldn’t take it off, no matter how much I sweated. That’s when I learned the meaning of “hot as a fox’s behind.”

My other grandmother, Mommie, had Victoria furniture in her home. She wore broaches and fancy bed jackets but she milked cows, churned butter, fed the chickens and planted a garden.

She would wash our mouths out with soap if we talked about anybody.

“Nice little girls don’t do that.” I never understood why she thought we were “nice little girls.”

Pop was my granddaddy. I thought my other granddaddy was dead because nobody ever said a word about him. Then, one day Mama called me in from play to meet my “grandpa.” I thought a ghost would scare me, but it didn’t.

Pop lived next door to us. He was hard of hearing. Mama said he heard what he wanted to hear. But, evidently he couldn’t hear the motor of his car when it cranked. He would “rev’ up the motor until the car started shaking. That’s when he knew the car was cranked and he’d give it the gas and come roaring out of the garage backwards like a rocket. Birds would take to the sky. Squirrels would high tail it to the trees. Cats would skedaddle. Dogs would scamper and Mama would holler, “Get out of the way! One day, he’s going to kill somebody.”

I think that Mama was sorely disappointed that neither Mugi nor Pop lived up to her expectations that they would actually kill somebody one day.

My cousin Jimmy and I had a love-hate relationship. Mommie said she didn’t know what we loved more, each other or fighting. I opted for fighting. Jimmy and I would fight for any reason or no reason. Once he hit me in the arm with the hoe handle. I was sure that my arm was broken. I had wanted a broken arm since a boy in my room at school had one. Everybody signed his cast and he didn’t have to do his writing lesson or arithmetic. Mama said my arm wasn’t broken but she made me a sling out of a dishtowel and I carried my arm around in it for about two weeks. Nobody signed my sling.

Just recently, Aunt Jeanette’s picture became that of a lost loved one.

There’s a picture of her and Mama at a social event. They are enjoying the refreshments and Aunt Jeanette is leaning over to Mama, evidently asking her about somebody across the room. Mama’s stretching her neck to check out whoever Aunt Jeanette is talking about or asking about.

I laugh every time I look at that picture because it’s so typical of those two wonderful ladies. It brings them back close to me.

As I stood there with that photograph in one hand and the dust rag in the other, I realized I had a smile on my face. So, I guess dusting’s not so bad if you’ve got folks to talk to and memories to dust off.

Jaine Treadwell is features editor of The Messenger. Email her at jaine.treadwell@troymessenger.com.