Delegate! Delegate! Delegate! And then do the other 50% of the work yourself if you have to! This would have been the advice that my mother would have given to anyone who asked her how to get through a heavy workload with far too many duties, tasks, and responsibilities to handle. The kind of work load that comes with having a very large family, in our case eight kids, began at dawn, and ended at 11:00 PM when the National News came on TV.
As well, our mother had a very large extended family, many of whom spent much of the summer having their holidays with us in varying family combinations, because they all lived in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania where she was originally from. The number of children who got to go in one direction or the other for cross border reunions always depended on which family and which particular summer we are talking about. The visit I’d like to cover here is that of my Aunt Anna Mae and Uncle Virg and five or six of the eight kids she eventually had. Mom had just received a phone call from her to tell us that they were coming and that they would likely arrive by morning. Pittsburgh was 550 miles away and with a station wagon loaded down on top with luggage, and inside with kids, pillows, and toys it likely wasn’t going to move any faster than the speed limit of 60 mph— more likely a lot slower.
Journeys were often made in the dead of night by our family and theirs. That way the kids slept a lot and didn’t need so many bathroom stops, they didn’t fight so much, and there was much less traffic. Besides that, the border guards didn’t give anyone much of a hassle at the crossings when bringing over gifts from Mom’s siblings that might even be as big as a dryer (and actually was!) Apparently the guards just thought this was the huge volume of luggage a family of our size needed to travelled with as it was all tarped up. Dad may have helped on that one occasion by throwing most of our clothing inside and when asked what was under the tarp saying, “Luggage— Clothes and stuff.” This was, of course, in a far more relaxed era when terrorism was a word that people assumed meant what the carnies were hired to do,when they jumped out at you from the dark recesses, in the Fright House at the fair.
I never slept a wink in a car ever, unless I was an infant, but I had the sense to keep my eyes shut like everyone else when the rest of the kids were asleep. You learned a lot of things that way. Some stuff you didn’t quite get, and some stuff you’d rather not know, especially if it was something disappointing about one of Mom’s relatives. Because we loved them we thought they were all perfect, and that none of them would ever be mean to another of them—that kind of stuff.
Back to that phone call from Aunt Anna Mae, and its repercussions. My mother will not be offended when she reads this or even surprised to have a kind of written re-creation of the events as they transpired. By her own admission, when she was asked once what she thought she would have been good at, or chosen as a career if she had not had all of us, she said that she would have been a good prison warden (just kidding I hope) or an Army Drill Sergeant. That is definitely believable, because Mom kept our house running like a well-oiled machine.
The first thing that happened was that Mom ran to get the box of Spic and Span, the buckets and brushes and rags, and the liquid Glass Wax polish from the Fuller Brush man. Then she would start delegating.
You girls start washing down the walls and cupboards!
Dad, they’ll need the ladder up near the top, if you can go get it! They can start on the lower cupboards while you use the ladder to take down those dining room storm windows to get at the flies in there first!
Then you girls can take turns working off the ladder for the high up stuff.
And Bill, when you are done with the windows can you take the cover off the kitchen light down? I should wash that too.
You kids have to take all this junk off the archway shelves and put it in your own rooms! These shelves are not for putting your stuff on! You know they’re just for the trinkets and ornaments!
Jeannie! What would Mum (grandma) think if she knew that rosary she gave you was in this donkey’s cart and wrapped around its neck? Put this upstairs by your bed before your Aunt Anna Mae sees it. This is really bad!
Marsha, can you wash the fruit plaques off in the sink in Spic and Span too? They’re greasy from all those French fries we’ve been making.
Vonnie, stop what you’re doing and run up and strip all the beds! I’ll throw a load into the washer right now. What are Kathy and Janice up to?
Jeannie, you go help them to go pick all the things out of the toy box that they don’t play with and put them in a laundry basket. Anna Mae’s kids don’t have the toys that you kids have. Make sure they aren’t getting into any trouble. I’ll finish scrubbing these things. Then run over and tell Granddad that supper will be an hour late tonight. Here take him these cookies to hold him over. Aunt Flossie made them with molasses, so nobody will like them.
Bill, what are you doing with that paint? The bathroom ceiling can wait, for crying out loud! The smell will give everybody a head ache!
Marsha, I’ll help you with the walls. You can reach higher than I can, so you use the step stool and I’ll use the ladder.
Thanks Dad, these walls need to be cleaned more than the ceiling needs painting.(Mom switched constantly between”Bill” and “Dad” back then, but mainly called him “Dad” in later years)
First Bill, can you go find Keith to help you get those mattresses down and put them in the hallway upstairs? Then tell him that he has to come and gather together all the garbage from the bathroom, the kitchen and the back kitchen and take it out to the burn barrel.
Keith! Where have you been hiding? Take the garbage all out to the barrel and light it, and come back in for the dog food! I’m just going to clean the fridge and get rid of some stuff. Then go tell Granddad that supper is going to be an hour and a half late. When you see Jeannie, tell her to take the little girls with her and sweep the verandah. Then you come back and get the hose and start watering all the zinnias. Don’t drag the hose across them to get to the ones on the other side of the garden! Take the watering can to do that side or you’ll knock them all over!
Vonnie, when you were upstairs was baby Jimmy still asleep in his crib? Go check on him again . I don’t want him climbing out and wrecking all of Keith’s models again. Just go up and bring him down either way. He’s already had too long a nap anyhow. He’ll probably want to stay awake all night.
“Hey! Don’t you girls think the name “Donna” is such a pretty one?” Mom asked out of the blue, and for no apparent reason, as she came down the ladder and gave a little smile.
Sometimes I wondered about the wisdom of all that frantic cleaning, as a sparkling house might have intimidated one or another of Mom’s sisters. They might have asked themselves “Why isn’t my house ever this clean?” But none of them had a husband as particular and fastidious as our Dad, and they likely gave him a lot of the credit. My Aunt Sal was widowed with seven children, Aunt Anna Mae’s husband preferred doing “guy things” to being at home, and the rest of Mom’s sisters, who had either small families or no children at all, were just preoccupied with tidiness, as was their mother my grandma “Mum”. Aunt Mary, Aunt Wilma, Aunt Catherine, and Aunt Betty were very good homemakers, and their brothers depended on the women in their lives. For Uncle Larry it was his mother or sisters, and for Uncle Joe it was his wife our Aunt Grace, who handled all the household stuff.
I can well imagine that each of my mother’s siblings was very much acquainted with this type of ritualistic cleaning, done by each of them when they were growing up, whenever they were expecting relatives to come and stay with them. Our grandmother, Mum, had come from a very poor peasant family in the early 1900’s, and had been sent into service as part of the kitchen staff in a castle which belonged to a member of the Hungarian aristocracy. Much like the young girls who are servants in the series Downton Abby, who work practically non-stop when important guests are due to arrive, my grandmother taught her own girls to work in preparation for the arrival of her important visitors— her own family. It was them she chose to treat like royalty. To her, they were far more worthy of the effort than those she had done it for in the earlier years of her life, and they were far more appreciative too. Thank you Mum!