cleaning | Nantucket, MA
Nantucket Essays

From One to the Next

by Robert P. Barsanti

In the rest of the northeast, spring means a gradual thaw and warm up. The ice melts, the puddles dry, and then, on one golden and dappled afternoon, the sun burns through and things go bloom. Not so out here.

The sun appears like a student a half-hour late to his final exam: he offers no excuses or reasons, he just slips into an empty seat in the back and waits for his test to appear.

In May, the weather people start to snigger and point out the inversion the Atlantic has made on our island lives. For most of the winter, we watch Worcester drop into the single digits with a chance of snow while we sit in drizzle and forty degree air, with a thirty-knot breeze off of the ocean. Now, in the bloom of spring, the hills of Worcester are garlanded with lilacs and roses with temps touching seventy, while our island home remains in drizzle at forty degrees with a thirty-knot breeze off the ocean.

Which doesn’t mean that things aren’t blooming. In one of the houses that I take care of, an old friend is blooming under the window in the master bedroom. The water came in somehow, and now, in the transient warmth of the Shimmo spring, it spatters, circles the old paths, and blossoms into black splotches. As I stared at it, my mother’s kind and loving words rose in my ears: “Wake up and die right.” So I put the gloves on.

I have fought this black mold since I have been taking care of the house. And I am sure everyone who has walked into this room with a bucket or a vacuum has found themselves in the same position: on their knees scrubbing a patch above the electric baseboard and below the window. I have tried many tricks on this, short of ripping the wall apart. At this point, I have devolved to the cheapest and oldest solution: bleach and time. I will scrub, I will recommend crowbars and then I will scrub again. Then I will run out of time, and someone else will pick up the sponge and continue on for the succeeding generations of black mold. Pro tip: use gloves.

I have not initiated my young men into the fraternity of Mold. Even at this late date in the school year, they remain in the mysterious modern swamps of statistics and calculus before graduation breaks upon them. At this point, less than a month away from the “shake with the right, take with the left” moment, it remains an unspoken word. Graduation is something to think about after AP exams, and finals, and prom, and….there it is, with cap, gown, and special shoes. After that, there will be time for Generations of Mold.

They will graduate without grandparents, which didn’t occur to me as significant until it suddenly did. Graduation from high school may not be the milestone it once was, but it is a milestone nonetheless. Like many other ceremonies, it matters a lot more to the people watching it than to the people participating. For the young men, fewer people will be watching than we once hoped.

My grandfather gave me a watch; a hack watch from one of my uncles who had gone to war and had only partially returned. I knew its value then, he knew its value, and then time intervened and took it away. On the other hand, my father, in a typical sense of the moment and the impending future, gave me a brass stamp holder, letter opener, and pen cup. I still have those. I don’t remember what my mother gave me, if she gave me anything. It definitely wasn’t a sponge, bucket, and bleach set.

Time leeches all of the valuable things away. The luggage, the silver, the crystal, and the furniture are all as likely to go to the dump as to the next generation. Instead, the kids steal everything valuable out of our purses and wallets while we aren’t looking. One of the young men has inherited my mother’s rage. He stares at you and lets the thunderclouds build behind him, until a wall breaks and Ireland, in storm and glory, bursts forth. The other young man looked at me standing in the kitchen and used another old phrase on me: “If you have time enough to lean, you have time enough to clean.”

I see my parents in them. The ridiculous grace that my father had on the tennis court or the ski slope has skipped a generation and grown on them. My mother’s exhaustive and detailed student notebooks have come back and are re-written into a new century with a familiar hand. They flash me looks that I remember from my childhood. The young man crosses his arms and, there, Mary stands again, still angry about the missing ice cream.

I am sure their mother sees the same echoes—they stay just in the side of your eye or just out of earshot. A phrase you remember, or a look, or a reaction: how did they get that?

I have other things I would rather give them. There is china, still wrapped in green foam and zipped into protective cases. There are champagne flutes. And a frat sweater and books and an odd signed picture of Ted Kennedy. But they have looked past them and grabbed my mother’s love of ice cream and buttercream eggs. They snuck her expressions away and now they flaunt them in my face. Mother’s Day reminds me of all of the things that they have taken.

And I am the only one they could have taken them from. I have the words that they have taken from my mouth. I have the expressions they have stolen from my face. I have the history that was taken untold and then expressed without a word. The thieves celebrate Mother’s Day; they celebrate everything that they have taken, while the things I want to give sit useless in my hands. Like bleach, buckets, and gloves.

Articles by Date from 2012