Vacuuming My Way Into Clarity
By Anthony Buccino
There was that time when the neighborhood version of “Benny Miller-from-Cucamonga” tried to sell Mom a new vacuum. “Would you let your eight-year-old son pick up a handful of dirt outside and eat it?"
It’s the same story every week: “Ant, the house is all dusted. You can vacuum when you’re ready.”
“Aw, I got to vacuum the whole house,” I mutter under my breath.
When I’m ready, I grab the vacuum from the upstairs closet, plug it in and click it on. While the noise drowns out the rest of the world, I focus on specks of dust and lint challenging me to a duel they will lose.
Before I know it, my head is cleared of everyday life. My mind is fogged by memories of Mom and her Electrolux that slid on metal blades across our old rug in the four-room cold water flat.
There was that time when the neighborhood version of “Benny Miller-from-Cucamonga” tried to sell Mom a new vacuum. “Would you let your eight-year-old son pick up a handful of dirt outside and eat it?”
“Of course NOT!”
“But, Mrs. Buccino,” he said, “the rug inside your house is much worse than the dirt outside.”
Hey, I was eight. I wouldn’t eat dirt in the yard. Anymore. What was this guy talking about?
Ma was unconvinced and sent him on his way. She wouldn’t even give him the name of a friend he could call on, the way a now-former friend had given her his name. We made do with that old Electrolux until after we moved to our big house, where there was now also a wall-to-wall carpet to vacuum.
That new house had an 8,000 square foot side lawn that needed to be mowed. Gone was that old rotary push mower. In my eagerness to use the new Lawn Boy Dad bought, that chore became mine.
After a gazillion pulls on the easy-start cord, the roaring motor drowned out the rest of the world. I focus on overlapping cuts, straight lines, the end of my imaginary row where I’ll turn around and head back in 200-foot paths for the next hour and a half.
Automatically, I round trees, maneuver past pits, side-cut hills, and watch for that silly little patch of blue grass growing below the black walnut tree. I kick aside the fallen green walnuts. I know where every root pops up, and where I might create a divot. I eye the neighbor’s hedges that need trimming, stop and empty the bag of clippings, leaving the mower to whine for my return. As my hands are shaken into numbness, my brain solves all the problems of my little world.
After Dad died, and I had a home of my own, Ma’s lawn was still under my stewardship. Weekly I’d haul the latest working mower and gas can back and forth between our lawns.
I’d tell my daughter, “Hey, you want to visit Grandma? We can take our lawn mower for a ride. It’ll be so much fun.”
The older I got, the larger Mom’s lawn seemed. By comparison, my home lawn was a postage stamp and hers was the novel, “Pride and Prejudice”. At least Mom was still up to doing her own vacuuming.
Meanwhile, back at my ranch, I was able to bring home a Labrador Retriever, as long as I promised to vacuum all the dog hair in its wake. No one could figure how our basement dog got her fur past the drop stairs into the second-floor attic. But there I was, vacuuming dog hair in the attic.
Two dogs later, and I’m still vacuuming dog hair everywhere. Heck, our latest Lab sees me plug in the vacuum, and heads to the sanctuary of his crate on the bare floor side of the basement.
I don’t know that my father ever touched our vacuum. Mom was a housewife. Dad went to work, Ma did her chores. Monday was wash day. Tuesday was ironing. Wednesday was scrubbing. Thursday was mending. Friday was mopping. Every day was cooking dinner.
When Mom vacuumed, the old Electrolux had a cloth bag held in by clamps. When the bag was full, Mom would empty the dirt and dust onto old newspapers spread out on the floor. Try doing that online. These days when the bag is full, I snap it out and replace it with a clean bag. Our local vacuum dealer recommends we have ours serviced about every 90 days. Huh? I don’t even change the bags that often.
Nowadays we split chores. I don’t mind vacuuming. Bachelors must vacuum their pads, no? Eventually, yes? In fact, I sometimes really get into vacuuming. I flip over furniture, zip under dining room chairs, slip under slipcovers and leave a path of no footprints. I crisscross the carpet giving it the look of center field at Yankee Stadium. All this time, I keep a business-like look on my face. You can’t let on that vacuuming is cathartic.
“Aw, I got to vacuum!” You may hear me moan, but I look forward to those moments when the noise fills the outside air and my brain solves all the problems of my little world.
First published as Vacuuming My Way Into Clarity on Write Side of 50.
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New Jersey author Anthony Buccino's stories of the 1960s, transit coverage and other writings earned four Society of Professional Journalists Excellence in Journalism awards.
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