Memaw put fresh air and sunshine to good use.

By Valerie Fraser Luesse
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woman hanging clothes on line
Credit: Lambert/Getty Images

By the time my maternal grandmother was in her mid-forties, she had given birth to eight children. Eight children—all born before World War II. I have a husband and a cat and still can’t keep our suburban ranch house as clean as she and her three daughters kept that old farm house in rural Alabama. (Thank goodness for the angel-for-hire who comes to help me every other week, or you might never find us among the dust bunnies.)

I still remember some of the cleaning products my grandmother and, later, Mama used, things like bluing to whiten shirts, liquid floor wax—I think it was called Jubilee—which came in a glass bottle back then, and Ivory Snow detergent flakes for delicates. (Do any of y’all remember when Dolly Parton advertised for Breeze, which would put promotional giveaways like dish towels inside their boxes of powdered detergent?)

My parents and I lived with my grandmother till I was around 11, so I got to watch my mother take on the spring cleaning mantle. All the curtains would come down for a good washing and be hung out to dry on a ginormous clothesline. Windows were washed, curtains ironed and rehung. The mattresses had to be flipped in the spring, and all the pillows were periodically “sunned.” Now that’s the one spring ritual I’ve held onto. If you’ve never put your bed pillows outside in the sun for a whole day, you have no idea what “fresh” smells like. I imagine a shot or two of pre-sun Febreeze would only enhance the effect.

“The Colonel” (that was my grandmother’s nickname, bestowed by one of her sons, who said she was bossier than any sergeant he encountered during the war) also directed that her quilts be sunned. And, of course, all the bed linens were washed and hung out to dry because we had no dryer and only a primitive washing machine that hooked up to a hose in the sink (I can still hear my mother telling childhood me to keep my hands away from the wringer). Pause for just a minute and imagine yourself tucking into a bed where sheets, pillows, and quilts had been in the fresh air and sunshine all day. (There was a bit of stiffness without a dryer, but it was a small price to pay for that fresh scent.)

Last but not least, the front porch had to be regularly scrubbed during warm weather because we spent almost more time out there than we spent in the house. My mother would carry buckets of hot soapy water from the kitchen and scrub down the porch with a broom till it was spotless and smelled like laundry detergent. Once I proved myself responsible enough, I was allowed to hose the soap off the porch, a perfect excuse to squirt my feet and legs on a hot summer day.

All that cleaning kept our house in order, but it was also our way of welcoming spring and summer with open windows and the whap of screen doors. I could go on. But I have some pillows to sun.

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