Monday, June 25, 2012


For some reason Sally popped into my head this weekend. And i thought it would be nice to write about something other than my current emotional state.
After steve and I split (really, it does all come back to being about me tho), I spent a year cleaning houses as way to generate income but spend as little time away from the kids as possible. I had mentioned to Taylors 3rd grade teacher that I was looking for cleaning jobs if she knew of anyone looking. She mentioned Sally. Luckily Sally lived not too far from me in a condo off of Airport Expressway. We met for the first time and she showed me around her place and talked to me about what she was looking for. I was completely overwhelmed.

To this day, I dont have a clue how old Sally was. She was simply, old. And her house was a WRECK. Like, OMG wreck. Not hoarders wreck, but someone who hadn't picked anything off the floor in a good long while wreck.  But, when you have three mouths to feed and no other source of income, you will take what you can get. This started a 5 year relationship that overall is probably one of the most interesting and gratifying relationships I've had.

The first order of business was to get the house back to some reasonable sense of organized. Sally was a very active woman. She volunteered for more organizations than I could possibly list here, and loved to entertain. She was also fairly obese and had a host of health problems that made getting around and staying on her feet a challenge. So she maintained her extremely active lifestyle, but anything around the house that wasnt deemed important, was left for me each week. The entry way woud have an assortment of mail and papers laying about, she would simply drop the unimportant ones as she came in. Often there were bags of groceries strewn about with the cold items (usually) removed and put away but the rest left for me. Dirty clothes were piled in her closet and shoes and jewelry could be found anywhere, across a string of rooms and most often in a pile next to the shower or toilet. The kitchen was always a hodge podge of pans and dishes piled mostly in the sink. Tho sometimes I'd have to remove a whole stack of items from the oven. One of her favoriate hiding places when company was coming before I was . . .  and often she'd forget to tell me they were there till weeks later. I learned to check.
I'd occasionally have to deal with a pan that had all but caught on fire as she'd sometimes start dinner, and then fall asleep before it cooked. That wasnt frightning.
Despite the chaos of the house, Sally was very particular about certain things. Sometimes it baffled me, how she determined their importance.  For instance, I would want to clean all of the rotten food out of the refrigerator, but only if i had time to feed the birds first. That was her priority.

After several weeks the complete chaos of the house was mostly dealt with and we were heading into fall. Which meant the switching of the closets. First off, her closet was such a diabolical disaster, that was one area i hadnt even started to tackle. And this "switching of the closets" seemed like an AMAZING waste of time. But this is what she did, every spring and every fall. Take everything out of the closet in her room, and put it in the guest bedroom closet and vice versa. The amount of clothes this woman possessed was baffling. This seemingly simple task was quite possibly the most dreaded of all tasks. It took HOURS.

One of the better tasks was every holiday she decorated. EVERY HOLIDAY. And she had what felt like 60 years of accumulated decorations for each one. And she knew where every last piece went. So down came the pictures, pack up the 20 miniature tea sets. Put the hummels away, and get out the Easter eggs, ornaments, flags, hearts, or whatever was the theme of the holiday.  . . . and three weeks later, undo it all and prepare for the next one . . .

Entertaining was always a BIG event. She had special plates, special decorations, napkin rings, cups, for every single type of gathering. She taught me what it meant to entertain old school. The tables were set with precision (she always had to correct me on the order of the forks!) and she was the consummate hostess. And the following day I'd go back and clean it all up again and hear all the stories about who came, who didnt show and who was having what health issue.

Not a single holiday or birthday went by that I worked for Sally that she didnt surprise me with a gift, not only from her, but also from her dog Murphy. Cute quirky items that a broke ass single mom often had little use for, but they were thoughtful and sweet and almost always made me cry at her kindess.

About a year after I started working for Sally I went back to work full time and she asked me to stay on. So I did. I dropped to every other weekend and would spend my sat or sunday mornings working as fast as possible to get her caught up. She'd follow me around as best she could from room to room updating me on her last two weeks and asking about mine. Apologizing again for having done no laundry and leaving it all to me, and me explaining that I didnt mind.  All the while, trying to be patient and trying to deal with two weeks of disaster. At times getting impatient but trying to understand and be gracious knowing how much she looked forward to our visits.

Over time, we developed a nice friendship. I found out in the 80's she had had a partial mastectomy from breast cancer. Of course she tells me this as I walk in on her in her room buck naked as she was struggling to get dressed for church one morning. Sally wasnt shy.

She did find some of her other physical ailments more disconcerting, and would call me from time to time in the middle of a week and ask if I would come clean up some accident or another that had happened. She hated these episodes. And if you know me at all you have no idea how hard it was for me to handle these incidents. But you cant hear the voice of a woman who is embarrassed and upset and not run over and take care of things, as awful as they sometimes were. It was life.

Sometimes I would take the boys with me if I needed to go over on a kid weekend. They didnt particularly like going, but they liked sally well enough and I'd often find them fun little jobs to do. She really enjoyed having them around. Sally had never married and had no children of her own but she had adopted several families over the years that she became a surrogate grandmother to. Every holiday season I would help address and stamp hundreds of cards and hundreds of Christmas Gifts for her to mail all over the country. She was a generous soul.

She was a passionate MI fan and was very proud of the fact that MI was the first major university in the country to allow women to attend. I cant tell you how often she told me this. She had the picture of her class hanging in her bedroom.  She had gone to MI to become a teacher, and taught school for somewhere around 35 years.

I found my visits to Sallys to be, sort of a respite from my life at the time. I didnt have grandparents anymore even at that age and she filled the role nicely. With stories and anecdotes. and gossip about her friends. The ones who she liked, and the ones she found to be irritating or phoney but that she had known for 45 years . . .she distracted me from my own angst.

So Im sure you know whats coming by now. The day came that I went to clean and the entry way had its usual amount of strewn papers and mail. The living room had another stack of mail and newspapers next to her recliner under the tv tray where she ate her meals and watched her shows. Her omnipresent can of coke sitting on the tray.
It was a Sunday morning and she was often at church by the time I got there and would leave my check in the kitchen. The kitchen was surprisingly clean. No pans in the sink.
And the mattress was missing from her bed.
I found the number of the woman who had initially told me about Sally, she was one of Sallys "adopted" children.
"Mary? It's Heather. I just came to clean Sallys . . ."
"Oh my god heather. It never occurred to me to call you. Sally passed this week"

I sat in the living room I had dusted for the last 5 years, completely stunned. And just cried.

One time when I was cleaning, sally gave me 6 large insulated cups with cards in the plastic. They were the cups she used for card night but had found new ones she liked better so she gave me the old ones. At the time I remember thinking "what in the world will i do with these?" But I took them home. It was about a year later that she died, and I was so grateful to have those 6 silly cups.

There are a lot of things I learned from Sally. Family is who you surround yourself with. No matter what life hands you, keep moving forward. Give of your heart generously and you will receive more back than you can imagine. Entertain even if the dog pees on the carpet, your friends wont mind (except that bitch Edith, she ALWAYS has to make a comment!) . And when you get the the point that you have to chose between volunteering at the zoo, or visiting a friend and cleaning your house? Hire a young single mom to do it for you. You wont regret how you spent your time.

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