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Smith Says

SMITH: House cleaning drudgery solved; get Fran

By now, my attitude about housework is well known: I hate it. Life is too darn short to clean baseboards.

It’s also too short to mop, dust, polish, vacuum, clean windows, empty trash, do laundry, scrub bathrooms, and wash dishes—but Widdle won’t let me lie around and eat champagne grapes all day, either. (Those tiny, sweet globes are hard to find outside restaurants, but a girl can dream.)

So, we compromise. This means I do laundry/fold clothes, wash dishes, water plants, bag trash, make beds, change linens, sweep the porch, clean the fridge and keep the house picked up so it doesn’t resemble a village sacked by Vikings—and Widdle pays for a deep clean every few weeks.

I wasn’t a fan, at first. Having a stranger in my empty house, with access to prized possessions, was a bridge too far. I’m also weird about who I want near me, which is why I don’t eat at community tables or get manicures.

Then there’s the privacy issue. What if they found my stash of Russian candies that Widdle doesn’t know about? What if they judge me by the dust bunnies under the bed?

But, as Neil Young said, there comes a time: One Sunday afternoon, Widdle surveyed the sticky counters and streaky floors and said, “We have to do something.”

“Okay,” I said. “Find someone who’s local, bonded and insured, trustworthy and has references.”

“Or I could give Fran eighty bucks,” he said.

Our neighbor Fran is a great mom who’s always looking for part-time work. She keeps a spotless house and… I know where she lives. With that reassurance, it seemed worth a shot.

(Before anyone hollers about $80 being underpaid, please know that our small, one-story house can be made immaculate in three hours; I timed it once, years ago. But it’s too much for me after working a full-time job, freelancing and exercising maniacally.)

Fran came over on the appointed day. Almost immediately she said words I’d never heard before: “I love cleaning. It’s my passion.”

Me: “Say what?”

My immediate reaction: “She’s on something.” Second reaction: “She’s like Mom!”

My dear departed mother would rather clean than eat. If she couldn’t sleep, she’d get up and wax the kitchen floor.

When she was bored, she cleaned. When she was happy, she hummed as she cleaned. When she was mad she cleaned with a vengeance, changing beds that she’d changed three days before, mopping spotless floors and defrosting the refrigerator’s tiny freezer compartment with a vacuum cleaner hose.

(For readers under 40, defrosting a freezer used to be sheer drudgery. It involved ice picks, hot water, a drip pan and many towels. Then some genius invented a vacuum with an exhaust feature that blew hot air through the hose—perfect for melting two inches of permafrost. You still needed towels and a pan, and had to wedge the hose in place.)

Sometimes I think I hate cleaning because Mom dragged us out of bed at 7 a.m. on Saturdays, thrilled to have free labor and cheerily ordering us to dust, wash windows, scrub floors and clean the aquarium.

I, quite reasonably, thought Saturdays should be reserved for reading books and riding my pony. I never won that argument.

Update: Fran is a marvel. She leaves the house sparkling and smelling good. If there’s a dish in the sink, she washes it. If a rug needs beating, she beats it. We are blessed.

Fran, I and my mother thank you.

Julie R. Smith, who’s still looking for champagne grapes, can be reached at