I'm not much of a housekeeper. If I qualify as a 'yo-yo' dieter, (and I do), I should be the mascot of the Yo-Yo Housekeeping Club. So feel free to be as shocked as my Mother would to know I have a book about housekeeping on my shelf. A very large, 884 page book, called Home Comforts by Cheryl Mendelson. While I could reasonably be expected to but a book on art, and occasionally science, a book subtitled The Art and Science of Keeping House isn't my usual fare. It's not your usual cleaning-up book, either. In some ways a cross between Alexandra Stoddard and the instruction manual that came with your washing machine, it's also much more. (The fact that I long ago lost the manual from my washing machine was one of the reasons I bought it. Being on sale was another.) Thus several years ago I found myself the proud owner of a book with 72 chapters on cleaning my house. In the spirit of sharing the wealth I bought one for each of my kids, too.
Doing exactly what this type of book discourages, I started reading straight through from page vii to the end. The second chapter looked promising. Easing Into a Routine is just my style. Save time! Shorten housekeeping! Keep lists! I was primed. (I love lists, having at one time kept a master list of my lists.) I read on. Daily schedules sure, but weekly, monthly, semiannually and annually? This was more than I'd bargained for. Weekly laundering chores followed. It seemed that throwing towels and sheets in once a week, and washing my clothes when I ran out of clean underwear, just wasn't the thing. Not my idea of easing in, but it wouldn't stop me. I read on.
I breezed through the section on food and kitchens. My grandmothers and mother may not have spent a lot time instructing me on the finer points of dusting, but thanks to them I know my way around a kitchen, and food. If Mendelson ever adds a chapter on cooking and baking, I'm her woman. I'll even clean up after myself. I was fascinated by the idea of keeping a separate rag bag for each of the several types and sizes of rags I should have. I learned how to sweep the floor with a broom -- it seems I have been doing that correctly. However, I didn't realize there are people who go over their floors on their hands and knees with a dust cloth after vacuuming, just to be sure. It shouldn't have surprised me, having once known two women who weekly scrubbed their baseboards with a toothbrush. While each raising several small children to boot. I don't know where they are now, but I'll wager they still have the most sparkling baseboards in their neighborhoods. Or arthritic knees -- take your pick.
It's not fair, though, to dismiss Home Comforts as another of those self-improvement books that invariably leave you feeling more out of control and depressed than before. In fact, after a quick glance, both of my kids insisted on being given their copies immediately. I'd been thinking about keeping the books until they went to college or got married. But, as one of them pointed out, by that time I probably wouldn't be able to find them. What caught the kids' interest was the way almost arcane bits of information, like caring for daguerreotypes and tintypes, co-existed with detailed explanations on fiber composition, care and cleaning.Very detailed information. The section on removing stains is more complete than anything my washing machine manufacturer ever dreamed of.
The author made her book more than a compendium of tips on folding fitted sheets and maintaining your drains, or even calculating the efficiency of light bulbs. In the name of cleaning science she spoke to many industry insiders and experts at obscure governmental departments. (I like to imagine that in the process she made some usually ignored people people very happy.) The result of of her zealous research is a book even the most skeptical can trust. If a co-worker spills coffee on her blouse and reaches for the hand cleanser, you can tell her that the tannins in coffee could be permanently set by the soap, and, by the way, the hair spray she keeps in her purse isn't a good cleaner for ball point pen marks. The alcohol may get the mark out, but the guns and lacquers left behind can be just as hard to remove. This is not an old wives' tale. You learned it from an expert.
As for myself, I've decided this book has earned it's place on the bookshelf, taking up the last three precious inches of space between Granddad's copy of Edger Guest, (It takes a heap o' living to make a house a home."), and the end of the shelf. It's a fitting place, I think. After all, Home Comforts does contain an entire chapter on taking care of books. A short chapter it may be, running not much more than four pages including illustrations. But it is an entire chapter, with enough information to make my second grade teacher and my husband happy. My teacher, because of the detailed instructions on opening a book for the first time. Lay the book open, keeping the pages upright. Then carefully open the pages a few at a time, alternating from front to back. One never opens a new book from the center. Miss Ethredge knew that. My husband would have appreciated the general air of reverence shown here, and the wisdom imparted in the opening sentence, "The best way to preserve a book is to read it." But then he didn't need anyone to tell him that. Neither do you.
Read Well, Friend