When I was a little girl, there was no school the week before Easter: Easter Vacation. Nobody worried about calling it Spring Break or Semester Break, or anything different from what it was, because like I said before, everybody was either Catholic or non-Catholic, so everybody celebrated Easter. At my house, Spring Housecleaning Break was a more accurate name.
It was time for the house to get spic-and-span. I helped with the vacuuming and the dusting, but now it was harder because everything got moved out and taken apart. It seemed like it got a lot messier before anything got clean. Stuff I crossed-my-heart-and-hoped-to-die, I never saw before came out from closets and out from behind the boot box. Dust came up out of the cushions and just floated in the sunlight, and the whole place started to smell like an old abandoned bird’s nest.
The davenport cushions came off and Mom put the vacuum sweeper hose way down deep into the couch, sucking out all kinds of stuff that made a rattling sound coming out like bobby pins and jacks. Lots of times a lost Kleenex would come schlooping up out of there and clog up the hose. I liked the schlooping sound, so sometimes I let those Kleenex go up there on purpose; if I sucked one up by the corner, all went well, but in the middle, that caused a lot of trouble. Mom could tell from way in the kitchen that I got something stuck in the hose, and she hollered out, “Stop. Can’t you hear that?” The she hurried in to fix the hose with a hanger she took apart, so she had one long fetching stick. Mom could fix just about anything.
Bonita and I got to wash the windows one of us inside and the other outside until the windows were free of spots. Mom gave us this Glass Wax stuff that made the windows all white and pasted, then we wiped and wiped with newspaper until the windows sparkled. We liked this job, ’cause we got to be outside part of the time and we laughed a lot at each other disappearing, then coming into view again when the wax got wiped off. Bonita said I missed a spot and pointed at something in the corner that I couldn’t see, and I did the same thing back, until finally one of us got mad, and the other had to say sorry. Most of the time I was saying sorry.
Mom did a lot of baking during Easter Vacation, too, on Easter Sunday, company was coming. The smell of pastries baking made the little hairs in my nose stand on end, and my nose just wanted to open wide and suck in as much of that sweet smell as I could. My favorite was helping make makowiec, or poppy seed rolls. Mom always made those and the same type of sweet roll only with pineapple and raisins, too, but I’m pretty sure that was not Polish food, ’cause pineapple doesn’t grow in Poland. Mostly grain and pigs grow in Poland. I know that because in school I did a report on Poland; it’s only about the size of Illinois, which might be why so many Polish people moved there when they came to America. Maybe that’s why Grandma and Grandpa went to Chicago so much, ’cause of all the Polish people there; they never went back to Poland and that must have been pretty lonesome for them. If I had to be so far away from my grandma and grandpa, I would be really sad, you can just bet.
The makowiec took a ton of work: mixing and kneading and punching and rolling. When it came to the rolling, that dough was just like a rubber band; Mom rolled it out and then it sprang back, then all over again. She just kept at it though and eventually Mom won. That’s just the way she was, she just kept at stuff until she conquered it; I probably got my stubbornness from her, but she had a lot more practice, so she was a whole lot better at it than I was.
Mom scrubbed the floors and wiped Johnson & Johnson wax all over the linoleum. She used to spend a lot of time buffing the linoleum, then one day, she got a great idea. Mom was good for ideas too, I think she could have been an inventor like Grandpa, if she wasn’t so busy having babies and killing chickens, ’cause she sure was good at making things and fixing stuff. Mom had all us kids take our shoes off and slide across the floor until it was all buffed up and shiny. This was about the funnest job I ever had. I liked to grab Frankie by the pant legs and drag him across the floor until he about laughed his guts out. There’s nothing quite so much fun as making a Little Kid laugh, and Frankie was my Pal, so that made it even funner.
We didn’t go to church all Holy Week long, like people do now. Once I ask Mom on Good Friday, “Shouldn’t we go to church between noon and three and get down on our knees and pray for awhile?”
She was all ready with an answer, just like she knew I would ask that question, “No, we should suffer, like Jesus did. He was hanging on a cross, you’re suffering by cleaning.” I wasn’t suffering all that much, but I just got back to schlooping up Kleenex and kept quiet. Sometimes it was better to keep it to myself when Mom was wrong.
I suppose over time, everything we did in preparation for Easter got a lot easier: Lent is watered down with less fasting and barely any abstinence, and Spring Cleaning, well, I don’t even do it anymore. Still, I think there was something symbolic to all the preparation and waiting we did when I was younger, because by Easter, it really was like everything was washed clean and made new again. Inside and out