Mum belonged to the generation of women, which after keeping the country running while the men were away at war, continued to work outside the home when they came back.
When I think back now, I don't know how she managed, without even a washing machine, let alone a dryer! One way was by having an after-work routine that she did not deviate from:
Every evening the grate in the kitchen, which held the coal fire that heated the house, had to be cleaned out. The grate would be shaken vigorously with a poker and the ashes that fell through the iron bars would be swept out with a brush into a dustpan and a new fire built. The red flagstone kitchen floor, dusty with all of the ash floating around, would be swept and mopped daily.
Monday was washing night. On cold winter evenings while the washing boiled in a dolly tub, the kitchen windows and doors were open wide to the elements to let out the steam. I would shiver in our breezy house, hoping that it would all be over soon, that the doors and windows would be closed, and being "inside" would again feel different to "outside."
Our bed sheets were heavy white cotton twill; no permanent press--it would be years before that was invented.
Mum would wrestle the sheets, steaming hot, and heavy with water, into the kitchen sink and then wash them before rinsing them. She would wring them out by hand, and I well remember how reddened and rough this made them.
One day she bought an amazing invention called a spin dryer. This tool really helped. It was a thing of wonder and Mum cared for it lovingly! But it still required loading with the small quantities of laundry it could hold at one time and then holding on tight as it began to spin and wobble like a wildly bucking bronco, while the centrifugal force spun the water from the washing and into a carefully placed waiting bucket.
Then everything had to be hung outside or inside on lines, peg by peg!
Tuesday evening was ironing night and all the sheets and pillowcases for our three beds, were ironed; along with the rest of the laundry.
Wednesday evening was Mum's night off, and she used to play her accordion in the kitchen when the dinner dishes were done; we also always knew what was for dinner by which night of the week it was.
Thursday evening Mum did the bedrooms, which meant that she vacuumed and mopped the floors and I did the dusting (she hated dusting.)
Friday evenings we watched one of the many old movie series on TV, together.
Saturday was shopping day and Mum would go to the village or into Redditch on the bus, bringing back only what she could carry in her shopping bag.
Back then a married woman was referred to as a "housewife," a term I never liked because it sounded like you were married to the house. Even worse was "the missus" which sounds like an accessory to go along with "the vacuum," (which in England we called "the hoover.")
When my Dutch Oma visited any of her daughters, she would help out with the cleaning by going over and above the normal cleaning--she was like a caped Super Hero: Super Cleaner and would do things like wash all the walls!
So I grew up knowing that keeping houses clean was a going concern, a constant occupation.
I never had as rigid a routine as Mum, and I had way more labour saving devices, but when I cleaned did clean deep.
Somewhere along the way though, maybe because I'm getting "older," I find myself struggling to keep up with the many rooms to clean and all of the shopping, laundry, finances etc. that are the stuff of everyday life after a days' work.
I often don't want to do anything else at the end of a long work day, and I don't want to spend every hour of a Saturday consumed by chores. I do what I can, but often feel that it is at a snail's pace and that I am nowhere near Mum's standard of housekeeping!
So I wondered, how do my younger co-workers manage? They drop off and pick up children from day care or school, before and after work, and older children are enrolled in so many activities that evenings and weekends are consumed in ferrying children to hockey, ballet, music lessons and swimming lessons.
I asked the question of someone recently, after she told me what activities her daughter was enrolled in these days, and listed the exhausting sounding schedule of drop offs and pickups.
"Whenever do you get your housework done?" I asked innocently.
She laughed at the question. "I don't," she said.
A couple of days later she said, "Belinda, I've been thinking about what you asked. I really just clean a washroom when I have a minute, or tidy a shelf when I have another minute. The whole house really never gets cleaned."
Now this; don't laugh; was a revelation to me.
Things have changed as much from my generation to this one, as they did from Mum's generation to mine.
I felt freed and I decided to adopt this method myself, and stop shooting for the elusive "whole clean house" idea.
The real truth about housework is...
...that there are so many more important things to be done!