Before she left that day, she rearranged all the furniture in the front room, but not without asking me first. “Veronica,” she said—there was none of this Mrs. Stewart stuff between us—can I fix up this front room? It’s awful.”
I nodded agreement. After that stern direction from my husband about not wanting me to touch anything, I hadn’t, so I figured perhaps the housekeeper could get away with it. I watched as this small dynamo rearranged the Early American furniture I hated so much. Suddenly, the room looked better, brighter, and not so hung over with the neglect of a family afraid to touch anything Gloria left in her wake.
We both stood admiring Pauline’s handiwork. The one thing we did not move, however, was the small shrine to Gloria sitting on top of a built-in stereo. The shrine was a statue of the Madonna with candles around it which Deena lit every morning before she went off to classes at the local community college. The children had been raised Catholic and Deena installed it in the house after her mother died.
Pauline eyed it carefully as she dusted around it. “How long, are you going to let that sit there?” she asked me as if she had been my housekeeper for a hundred years.
I shrugged. To my thinking, it was the most untouchable in a houseful of untouchables.
“We’ll take it down when Deena moves out,” was her response to my shrug.
I was immensely surprised by her comment. “Do you think that will ever happen?”
“Yes, she’s talking about it.”
“Pauline, how do you know all this stuff?” I asked, laughing.
“Oh, I have friends who have friends who have friends. We gossip a lot.”
“Well! You sure know a lot more about what’s going on in this family than I do!”
She shrugged her shoulders. “I know.”
On her way out the door, she turned to me and said, “All the cupboards and closets need cleaning. Gloria never let me touch anything while she was alive, but I don’t think you’re that way. If you like, I’ll come to work for you a couple of days a week until we can get this place in order. And that includes your belongings I see stuffed in the garage. I’ll get my two sons over here to help move in your furniture.”
I wasn’t sure what to say, so I answered shamefaced, “John has told me not to touch anything because he doesn’t want anyone’s feelings hurt.”
Embarrassed by my lack of backbone regarding this whole house-cleaning business, I did not know what to do. I really understood how John’s children loved their mother and the house was Gloria incarnate. At the same time, I was simply trying to fit in without being pushy.
Pauline surveyed me for a moment and said, “This is what we’ll do. We’ll move everything you don’t want into the carport, and you tell John’s children to come over and take whatever they want. Whatever they don’t want, you can give to the Salvation Army. How can that hurt anyone’s feelings?”
“That sounds like a good plan. But what do I tell John about moving the stuff to the carport?” I asked.
“What’s he going to say once it’s been moved? Will he make you put all this junk back? I doubt it. He just doesn’t have the guts to tell his children you’re in charge of the house now!”
I was scared, but I agreed. The very ground beneath me seemed unstable, but I knew I couldn’t live like this. My sense of cleanliness and organization was crying out against living in a house that was such a disaster.
Later that day as children, step-children and spouse began to drift home, I waited anxiously for their comments about the changed furniture; I honestly didn’t know what to expect.
My boys were first. George yelled, “Hey, Mom, you’ve been busy today! You’re feeling better, huh?”
Jimmy crowed, “Wow, everything looks so nice!”
Then, Jack arrived. He walked in, put his books on the kitchen table in his usual grumpy manner, and looked into the front room. “I guess Pauline’s been here,” he said as he opened the refrigerator and drank a slug of milk from the bottle, a habit I hoped to break, and soon.
When Deena came home with Missy, she said, “Pauline certainly does love to move around furniture.” With that, they went to her bedroom and closed the door.
And what did John say? Nothing, as he made his way to the bar in the sun roo
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