A floor is a humble thing. It gets stepped on, walked all over, dumped on, and abused in so many ways and yet it never complains, apart from the occasional groaning or creaking. Sounds a lot like me— well just the groaning and creaking part I mean, but that’s just aging.Right? People never seem to start a good story by telling you about the floor, but then they aren’t me! Well, hopefully this will turn out to be a good story…
The floors in our living room, our hallway, my mother and father’s room and the children’s bedroom in the little house of my early childhood, were all made of narrow boards of beautiful golden oak. They were painstakingly fitted and nailed together by my father. When I was older I came to realize what a perfectionist he was, and that anything which he had made with his hands was a treasure for its recipient. I sometimes wonder about that first little house that he built almost 60 years ago. I wonder if the people who live in it now have ever seen the perfection in what lies beneath their feet, or has it been covered with successive layers of linoleum, hardboard, carpet, vinyl and the like. The little house has had many additions over the years, and its original modest beginnings are now well hidden. But I know that his beautiful workmanship is still there, hidden or not, and will remain there in the very heart of that now sprawling house as long as the house exists.
It was on this hardwood floor that I remember awakening in the middle of the hallway, in the middle of a thunderstorm, on one cold and rainy night. I wanted to be close to my mummy and daddy and hated to sleep alone in my own little bed when it was dark and scary. So I would sneak into bed with them. When they noticed me there, one of them would get up and carry me back to my own bed again. After awhile they became sterner and consequently I became sneakier. That’s when I stopped climbing in under the covers with them and instead lay across the bottom of their bed on top of the covers. This was sometimes very cold, of course, but still preferable to being away from them. When this little trick was repeated several times in succession they, naturally, as parents who have produced four children in the span of four years are prone to do, became firmer still about the necessity of remaining in my own bed at night. That’s when I began sleeping on the wonderful floor-polish-smelling floor in the hallway just outside their bedroom door.
Fortunately for me it was at just about this time that my little brother, Butchy, began to get out of his bed at night too, for sleeping crossways on the threshold to my parents bedroom would no longer be tolerated—not after the night of the thunderstorm when I was stepped on by one of my parents who had jumped out of bed to shut all the windows. I don’t remember which one of them it was, because it wasn’t a thing I needed to remember. I already knew how very much they loved me─ even if they didn’t want to share their bed with me! For as long as I lived at home, up until when I got married at the age of nineteen, any of the younger ones who wanted to snuggle up in bed with me, especially on a dark and rainy night, were always welcome. Fortunately Butchy, and none of the others were ever bed-wetters!
There was just that one single occurrence which is oft-repeated by my mother, accompanied by gales of laughter. One early morning Marsha came quietly sloshing out to the kitchen in her footed pink pajamas, rubbed the sleep out of her eyes and with either total indignation, or great audacity she loudly announced “Mummy, the refrigerator defrosted in my bed!” Our mother certainly had her hands full already with no less than two kids in cloth diapers at any given time for at least a dozen years. In the spring, summer, and fall the clothesline was full every Monday from daylight to dark with an ever-changing sequence of laundry. Everything had to be divided up into platoons, according to colour or lack thereof and then like so many soldiers in single file from smallest to biggest, they were run out on drill. Apparently this was so that any neighbor rattling down the dusty fourth side road between the fifth and sixth concession would be satisfied with the laundry line out on parade at our house. In the warm months General Public was also in for a special treat when doing Review because diapers were out daily! Like so many sailors in dress uniform, they were almost blindingly white…
My mother had a special reverence for chlorine bleach. It was as esteemed as holy water for its cleansing power─ both by my mother and my maternal grandma “Mum”. Obviously they both had been taught the laundry catechism when they were just young. People who commented that my mothers floors were so clean that you could eat off of them were speaking more of a truth than they realized!
I never had the opportunity to try out a sauna until I was away on a holiday with my husband, long after we were married but when it finally happened I had a vague feeling that it was altogether familiar. Then I remembered back to those midwinter laundry days of my childhood. Mom would roll the wringer washing machine out from the corner of our bedroom— the only space available when it was moved in from the garage for the winter. White cord was then strung line after line in all directions across the kitchen in a haphazard spider web. It was fastened wherever possible to cupboard door handles, curtain rods and small nails in door and window frames to avoid damaging the new plaster. The kitchen’s red and white tiled floor,with its liberal coating of paste wax, was a little more forgiving of dripping laundry than the polished hardwood ever would have been. So, after giving them their final rinse, and wringing them out between the machine’s rollers, my mother would pin diaper after diaper together at their top corners and onto the lines with straight wooden pegs. She would crank up the heat in the oil burning stove in the center of the living room and then mix up a nice big bowl of flour and water paste. We kids would sit up to the table and make picture books out of our favourite things cut or torn out of an old catalogue and stuck to pages from a cut-up old newspaper. Meanwhile, Mummy, who was taller, got to climb up and down off the top of a step-stool chair in the living room to put glue on the new plaster and stick the wallpaper back up.
Perfect floors made by father, clean floors scrubbed by my mother, blessed floors knelt on by little knees as we prayed to the Lord our souls to keep! I knew that I would find a story there somewhere!