My mother was a disciplined creature. In the first half of the 20th Century, when my mother landed on American soil, there was no greater platitude to aspire to than Cleanliness is next to Godliness. We might make snarky remaks about that today. But the reality is that our new industrial world was fraught with disease and death was an all too well known occurence. For my mom, that started at the age of three with the death of her siblings from influenza. My mom was ALWAYS busy. Mondays and Tuesdays were laundry days, Wednesday was grocery day, Thursday she cleaned the upstairs, Friday she cleaned the downstairs. I always knew when it was Saturday. That’s when she sent me outside to wipe down the wrought iron railings on both porches. 30 feet of them.
If you grew up in early industrial America where cement and steel manufacturing thrived, this would all make sense to you. In our neighborhoods, women routinely went outside every morning and swept the dust off the sidewalks and out of the gutters. Sounds silly. But it was really necessary. Otherwise, all that thick dust got dragged into the house and was ground into the floors and – worse – into the carpets. And in the age that preceded the modern vacuum cleaner, one had to literally beat the carpets to attempt to expel the dust.
Dirt and dust became caused bugs according to my mother. She may have been right. And bugs made you sick. And sickness meant you couldn’t work. And in the steel and cement mills, if you didn’t work, you didn’t get paid.
We’ve come a long way. But I never for once forget that the cement and steel mills gave me the life I have today in the 21st century. And the discipline with which my parents led their daily lives became my own work ethic. I don’t think I turned out too badly either.