qotd, the most dangerous place in the universe
many things make a post

the cleanliness continuum

First - let me just publicly say how very thrilled I am at being on Dooce's holiday gift list. I did a little (OK - big) dance of joy when I saw it, which was shortly after Katie (who helped hook Heather up with a copy of Gothic) sent a passel of email asking if I'd seen it. Someone ought to hire Katie to do PR or somethin'. 

Anyway - thrilled.

Second - a story from the holiday past, which I'm putting here so that I can remember it and get any other family members who read the blog (both of them) to contribute if they want:

One of the many reasons why I wished my Dad lived closer is that he tells all of these great stories about the Italian side of the family. One of which, naturally, follows. 

Strike that. It's not a story, more like a character sketch. A minor difference, yes, but I'm striving for greater accuracy. First time for everything.

My great-grandmother was called Mama Lane for the back half of her life because my Dad couldn't say her real name when he was a kid. My daughter, the Diva, is sort of named after Mama Lane. I say "sort of" because I've now seen her ostensible first name spelled about nine different ways, from "Maddlena" to "Magdalena" to "Madeleina." Let's just stick with Mama Lane. 

Mama Lane was born in Italy in 1900. No, we're not sure where. Yes, I know it's a big country. That's what makes it a challenge. Well, that and the fact that that side throws everything away.  She moved here as a fairly young woman, because my grandmother, her first child, was born in Pittsburgh in 1920. Still, Mama Lane never did fully embrace her new home.

Actually, that's an oversimplification. Mama Lane viewed the world as a cartesian plane. The two ends of the x-axis were "Italian" or "American," which meant every flavor of person (black, white, Asian, etc) who wasn't Italian. The two ends of the y-axis were "keeps a clean house," which for that end of the family means a house so sanitary that you could perform surgery on the garage floor and run no risk of infection,* and "does not keep a clean house." 

It was best, of course, to be in the "Italian and Clean House" quadrant. It was acceptable, in her eyes, to be in the "American and Clean House" quadrant. As for the other two, well, it was better to be an American with a messy house than an Italian with a messy house. Italians should know better.

I know that my house would give her fits. It's not like Hoarders-level bad, just full of the chaos of two kids and parents with jobs. And, unlike in Mama Lane's house, my children are allowed to sit on the furniture. Most of it, anyway. I joked that if she came over, her head would probably just explode. No, my Dad replied, she'd just start cleaning.

While he was here, Dad brought a copy of a picture of Mama Lane holding me**, which had to have been taken 37ish years ago. Now that I'm a little older, you can see the resemblance between us. I don't have her my-way-or-the-highway attitude -- but I also didn't emigrate when I was a teenager to a city where I didn't even speak the primary language. the circumstances under which I've lived can't compare, really. 

Mama Lane died when I was 4. I do remember, however, the day my Dad got the call that she had passed, because I can clearly recall asking my mom why my Dad looked so sad when he hung up the phone. 

It's a shame, really. I think we would have had a lot to talk about, once she finished scrubbing everything done. If nothing else, she could teach me how to make sauce, which I still can't get anywhere close to right. 


* These are folks who washed their walls and ironed underpants. Granted, it was Pittsburgh at its grimiest but, still, washed walls. 

** If I can remember to do so and anyone cares, I'll ask my Dad if it's OK to put it up. 


My great grandmother ironed underwear and money. Even though English wasn't her first language, she was born here. You want to get her sauce recipe down, I want the fudge to turn out right...

I'd love to see the photo if you get the ok.

Me see! Me see! (Photo, that is.)

Congrats on the Dooce thing :) -- that's great news, and I hope it results in many sales!!

I will never ever be able to recreate my grandma's Yorkshire pudding.

I totally wanna see that pic!

I still wash walls - A habit I picked up from my MIL when I was a young bride, but I don't do it twice a year like my MIL and her mother. (Massimiani...need I say more?)

And it's so funny that you mentioned the garage floor thing! My 82 year old MIL just told us that she had to change her wash buckets 7 times last week when she did her garage floor. And she doesn't even keep a car in there.

They had lots of other cleaning quirks, mostly due to coal dust that was pervasive and settled everywhere. We should compare notes.

I saw your book up there on dooce and gave a little whoop of joy for you! May you enjoy some new found royalties from this!

I remember finding you scrubbing the shower walls in Theater House after a particularly stressful day. Clearly there is some genetic predisposition for wall scrubbing. You told me about Mama Lane that day, which no doubt stuck with me because of my name. . .

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