The measure of a woman

“Gert was promiscuous. “ And then my brother said “Her husband criticized her housekeeping.”  I’m not sure either of these two traits was a true – or fair – measure of my Aunt Gert.

Aunt Gert laughed and talked and danced into rooms. I met her twice. First when she made the trek from Scotland in the early 1960’s to Prince Rupert in northwest British Columbia when I was a very young child. She enchanted me with her gurgling Scottish accent, her rich, smoky laugh, and her high hairdo. She visited again in the early 1970’s when I was 16 years old.  We smoked together. She told me she liked to wear glitter on her cheeks when she went out on dates. I didn’t find it hard to imagine her – by then in her 50’s – going out on dates. Gert sparkled.

The family likes to tell the story of when she arrived in Prince Rupert that summer in the 1960’s and shamelessly had a fling with the young son of a business colleague of dad’s.  Gert was likely in her 40’s and the young fellow would have been in his early 20’s. Gert scandalized my father. Perhaps stern words were spoken afterwards. But now when one of my siblings recounts the story we chuckle. We measure her differently now.


I sprayed the kitchen window with a mix of vinegar and water and attacked the paisley shaped smears of bug guts with paper towel. I estimated they’d been there since last summer, the remains of my daughter’s killer accuracy with a fly-swatter. Bug guts combined with 9 months of kitchen grease and dust made a tenacious opponent to my homemade cleaning fluid.

I leaned into the glass and pressed hard but the smears stuck. You might ask why the streaks had gone unnoticed all this time. They hadn’t.  I ignored them until the spring sun in all its impish boldness attempted to come through the glass but was stalled by congealed bug gore – Nike swooshes of death.

I opened the cupboard below the kitchen sink and found the industrial window cleaner that smells like trench warfare and sprayed. Two minutes later, the clean windows revealed a spotless view of our neighbour’s back yard – which at this time of year resembles Vimy Ridge – and the sun blew into the room unimpeded. It shone on my filthy kitchen floor. I closed the blinds.


Yesterday at work, we gabbed about the coming long-weekend. Someone said they planned to clean. I said I never plan to clean to which they replied “But you have children. They can clean for you.”

I huffed, “That’s not a value I wish to pass on.”

My attitude towards housework is casual – promiscuous, you might say. My husband does not criticize. Aunt Gert would be welcome in my home anytime. But I do wonder what will the family stories be when I’m gone and how I will be measured?

Alfie 005

Smokin’ with Aunt Gert




33 thoughts on “The measure of a woman

  1. Where would we be without Aunts who broke the mold?

    “Bug guts combined with 9 months of kitchen grease and dust made a tenacious opponent to my homemade cleaning fluid.”

    You smoked with your Aunt Gert when you were 16! LOL

    I’m glad for whatever circuitry led me to your blog, and I look forward to reading more.

  2. I perfectly understand cleaning on whim. I have often thought how odd it would look to someone if they saw me, half-undressed, tackling the kitchen floor, when I simply went down to get the crossword on my way to bed.

    • That was truly a laugh-out-loud comment, Hilary! I’ve done the oppposite: Come home from work in full formal office-worker regalia (pencil skirt, white blouse, jacket, pantyhose, and pumps) and tackled the toilet.

  3. My poor housekeeping skills extend to keeping my wordpress access current so who knows if you’ll get this comment. But I have persevered because I love this post so much. Would that we all could have such sparkle to counter our dusty homes!

  4. Oh, how I wish I had a flamboyant relative! Whenever my grandmother would visit she’d make me wash my windows. The fruits of her nagging control did stick though, except now I pay the window guy for clarity in all things glass. A lovely ‘southern’ friend of my mother’s however, has advice when it comes to dusting that I haven’t modified. She doesn’t, since dust ‘protects’ the furniture. You’re post is inspiring, Susanne. I think I’ll work on being the eccentric for my family. Enjoy your Spring!

  5. Interesting how we tend to remember best the rebels who touch our lives – the people who hint at the promise of adventure if we embrace our free spirit, rather than the accepted conventions.
    Your Aunt Gert sounds like a special one and likely influenced you in many subtle ways!

  6. Loved reading this post Susanne. Audrey isn’t much for cleaning the house regularly and I don’t criticize (frankly I don’t care) She does dusting once a couple weeks not sure why we get so much in this little rancher must be the winds and then there is the dehumidifier that manufactures its own. For my part I clean the bathroom once er uh well I attempt to clean it once a week!! Time is too important to waste on such trivial matters!!

    • For some reason our upstairs gets dustier than the rest of the house and because I write in our bedroom I do dust it regularly mostly so it won’t distract me from writing. But its the only room in the house that gets a regular once-over. Good for you for pitching in with the loo! I and all the other Gerts of the world applaud you, JB!

  7. Interesting how attitudes change – your Aunt Gert sounds like a great character and a free spirit but I can imagine she might not have been seen that way then. I don’t think it such a bad thing to be remembered as someone who didn’t do the housework very well 🙂

    • I used to get quite fussed about the state of the house and carry-on and moan about my lot in life as chief rug-beater and dust-bunny chaser until I realized I was the only one who cared and I was making others unhappy with my harping. So I stopped. I hope everyone forgets that crankier period and remembers the older, wiser me.

  8. What a marvelous post. My first reaction was a big LOL, but then I noticed the twinges of anxiety starting in my limbs first, then moving to my torso. OY, WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO ME?

  9. When I read stories about flamboyant Aunts like Gert, – wasn’t there such a character in “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn?” – certainly Alice Munroe has one or two – I always identify with her. Whether that’s because of her exotic nature, or the fact that she and I share certain traits (housekeeping habits come to mind) remains to be determined.

    Excellent piece, Susanne – from a housekeeper who just yesterday took note of the gunk building up in the track of the patio door. I’ll get to that. Some day.

    • Ignore the gunk! Ignore the gunk! As time goes by I am becoming an expert ignorer but I wish I could get rid of the curse of noticing. Just this morning as I was typing and one of my fingers got stuck on a key, I looked down and saw the grime around the edges of all the little squares. Maybe this is why my keyboard sticks?

  10. A lovey piece of writing and memory. I too would prefer to be measured by other qualities. Maybe my depth of character, my sense of humour or how much love I spread on this planet before I shuffled off this mortal coil. (You can’t see dust bunnies under the bed if you don’t look there….)

    • I hope you are known for all those qualities right now, Lisa. Certainly if preparing healthy and delicious food is a symbol of your love for your family, you’re already spreading the love!

  11. I loved, loved, loved this….brought out so many such “measures” of the time I grew up in India. Oh how times have changed…for the better and worse. Thanks so much Susanne. I belong to the club that doesn’t, now, believe too much in elbow grease.

    • There is a lot of judgement still of the way women dress and how we keep house but I try to avoid people like that now, the same way I try avoid too much housework. There’s just so many more fun ways to spend your time. That being said, I also know some people who really ENJOY housework. A writer I love, David Sedaris, writes about his time as a cleaner in NY City and how he still loves cleaning his fridge more than anything.

  12. We should all have an aunt Gert!! I’m with you on the cleaning thing. I just had a new venetian blind hung in my street facing front window and could no longer ignore the ‘puppy smears’ adorning the glass. It’s his place to sit and wait and greet visitors real or potential with excited leaps and yaps and pawing of the glass you understand – nose smears and tongue smears rather than swatted fly smears, though there may be some of those mixed in…… Anyhow, having cleaned the glass with my homemade solution of baking soda and vinegar 🙂 and announced ‘Near enough is good enough’ I wandered off to see to a painting and that was the housework done for that day. I might have to vacuum the floor in a day or two. It took me a while, but as I have grown up I realise that cleaning is one of those things that one never comes to an end with and that there are so many other worthwhile things to spend ones time attempting to conquer. I’d love to know what will be said at my funeral and have often considered having a pre-funeral wake just so I can hear it all – it would probably make me change my ways!! Great post as ever Susanne!!

    • Oh another kindred spirit when it comes to cleaning! After the window episode earlier this week I pulled out my beemop last night and cleaned the kitchen floors and all the other floors, too. I got quite a good workout going up and down the stairs but that should do it for a month or so or until we have company. My little dog also lies in the sunny front window keeping an eye on passers by but I seldom open the curtains so goodness knows what’s back there!

  13. Yes, we all wonder what stories will be told about us. In April of last year when I turned 70, I was so fortunate. Pretty invited 30 friends of mine to celebrate with me in a casual gathering at Casa de Canterbury. After everyone had been served their favorite cocktails, we sat around in a circle outside (random circle – not planned), and people began telling their favorite stories about me. It was awesome.
    Even if I didn’t remember things exactly like they were told and remembered by my friends, I liked to know those stories…I wish the same happiness for you some day, Susanne.
    P.S. Nobody told stories about my house cleaning, or the lack thereof.

    • Oh, Sheila, what a wonderful experience! I don’t have 30 friends (I’m an unabashed introvert – if that makes any sense) but I can imagine how you must have felt. I figure if all someone has to say about you is that you kept a clean house, then you need to change your game. But no judgement. 😉

  14. I’m firmly with you and Aunt Gert on this. My house gets a once-over once a week, but the amount of energy I put into that cleaning varies wildly. I’ve got three messy cats, and lots of things going on. My life is not going to be consumed by ensuring my floors remain sparkling and the sink never has dirty dishes.

    • I reckon if life is good to me I’ve got maybe 20 years left and damned if I’m giving over great swaths of time to scrubbing grout with a toothbrush. Gerts of the world UNITE!

    • I don’t know a whole lot about my flamboyant Aunt Gert but I sure as heck wouldn’t judge a woman on her lack of desire to keep the house. Such a Sisyphean chore. Time is a great leveler when we look back on our deceased family members, eh? Everything comes into balance eventually. Thanks for your kind words, Derrick. It always lovely to have you stop by and comment.

"The river flows both ways." (Margaret Laurence)

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