Tuesday, January 26, 2010

WOTD- polished

January 25, 2010 polished
When I was a teenager, back in Pleasant Hills PA, we lived in a 10 story apartment building where the average age of the tenant was something like 77 years old. It was a nice place, not like a tenement building, with a nice lobby and a club room where we once held a YM-YW Valentines party. Because the average apartment housed two people of considerable age, I found it a solid setting in which to practice my entrepreneurial skills. About every 6 months I posted a sign in the Laundry Room offering my services.

Capable 16 year-old girl willing to do laundry, polish and vacuum, cook meals and babysit.
Prices negotiable.
Call Cori 655-4547 apt. 102

I sold Avon. I had a laundry service. My sisters and I babysat. I cooked meals. I cleaned and polished.
All those businesses had their pros and cons. The pro, most often, was the two dollars an hour I got for cleaning and polishing, and the 75 cents per hour we got for babysitting. The cons included the hours of conversation I was forced to endure with old ladies who insisted I sit in their living rooms and fold the underwear I had just laundered for them. Con, I believe, is a rather harsh word because in reality I didn’t mind. I knew they needed company and I could make good conversation and found their lives to be quite interesting. Sometimes the medicinal smells of their places got to me and I made sure to chew on a piece of spearmint gum when I worked, though more than once I was told it was unbecoming for a young lady to chew gum.
On Tuesdays, Thurdays and Saturday evenings I walked up two flights of stairs and down the carpeted hall to the Soboslay’s place. Mr. and Mrs. Soboslay were kind and gentle people. They were both so short I could look down on their snowy white heads while they were standing, though their bodies were a little bent and compressed at the shoulders and it appeared that they were bowing to me when I greeted them. Mrs. Soboslay always wore a crocheted shawl and thick hose that wrinkled around her ankles. And she always wore a dress, usually one with a dainty print, and there was always a belt cinched around her tiny waist. Their place smelled of medicine, too, until I started to cook. I cannot even recall what I cooked for their dinners. I would be so much better cooking for them now. But the aroma always improved when I was there cooking. And so did my mood. I loved the Soboslays, and they loved me. At least I perceived it that way, in the shallow teenage way of feeling things. They smiled when they saw me and it made me feel good when they opened the door, shook my hand, showed me to the kitchen then moved to their recliners and watched Wheel of Fortune while I cooked. Made me feel like…I don’t know…like they felt safe around me.

One day a woman called from one of the 7th floor apartments. She wanted me to come polish her furniture. I tapped on her door, stepping back far enough for her to see me through the peephole. She opened it to reveal large antique furniture lining the walls. Tall wooden pieces with lots of history sunk into the wood. Thick, heavy curtains covered the windows. It reminded me of the old black and white movie The Haunting, though I suspect memory intensifies the reality of it. She hardly said hello, just told me to go ahead and polish away. “Stuff’s under the sink” she said, as she made her way back to the bedroom. I scrunched down and searched under the kitchen sink, finding a stack of soft cloth and a small can of Endust. I had worked a good half hour when she came out to inspect my work. I knelt there a little nervous and she looked over the hutch I had just finished. I promptly stood erect when she shrieked “This will simply not do!” I asked if there was something I had missed.
She took the dry cloth from my hand and skimmed it over the surface of the hutch. “This…” she whined, “is dusting.” She turned to face me eye to eye. “I am paying you to polish!” She took the can of Endust and headed for the kitchen, bending over and twisting her head, the way pigeons do, as she dug into the cupboard. She mumbled something I could not understand, though I have a pretty good idea what she meant.
“This,” she said matter-of-factly, “is wax. You use this to polish wood.” She proceeded to show me how to dig the cloth into the wax and scrape it out with the fingertips. She ran the wax across the wood. “Always go with the grain, never against it. And use some muscle. The more you move the softer the wax gets. When it’s worked into the wood nice and evenly give it a rest. At least twenty minutes. When it’s cool and set go back over it with a soft cloth. Again, use some muscle, though a little less than you did with the wax. Buff it, always with the grain. Fast. Fast. Buff it till it shines, till it’s polished.”
She handed me the small tin can and a pile of the soft cloths from under the sink.
I was sweating by the time I finished.
Ms. Whatshername shocked me into training that afternoon, and I needed a tall glass of water and a ½ hour of I Dream of Jeanie re-run to recover. But I have never forgotten the lesson. I know how to care for wood. Not that I do it well. But I know how. That’s worth a whole lot more than $2 an hour.

I still have my blue-green Avon bag. I actually gave it to Kate last year to use as a temple bag. It’s now rather hip and vintage. For years, when Kate was just a baby, I used that bag as my own temple bag. You could tell, walking through the temple parking lot as people made their way to and from the temple doors, who had once-upon-a-time succumbed to the entrepreneurial echoes of “AVON CALLING”. I think of the Soboslays when I flip on the TV to cook dinner and Wheel of Fortune is on. And I think of the wax woman when I rub wax into my granite counter top…let the wax cool and dry for a handful of minutes, then buff it for all I’m worth. Granite looks great polished.
Good thing I wanted a pair of ski’s when I was 16. Good thing my mom could not afford them. I found a way to buy them myself, and in the process polished a bit of good useful experience into myself.


  1. My mom used to have us polish the furniture - ten cents per piece. She gave us - now I can't remember what it was, some kind of white, thick liquid that looked something like ivory soap. But it was polish. My mother evidently didn't know about wax (thank heaven), or at least, didn't think we were old enough at six and seven, to handle it.

    The hardest job was the piano. You never polish the white keys, but I think we did the black. The piano was hard because it was all over carving and decoration - the lyre underneath that you had to do, getting into all the slots and little corners, and the turned and fluted legs.

    I must have done it fairly often, because I remember it so clearly. That piano. A console. We had it forever. Mom would play "Moonlight Sonata" or "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring," or the "Pathatique." All things she had learned as a girl, studying under Thomasina, a black woman who was concert level, back in Missouri in the thirties.

    Now, my mother sits slack-jawed all day. Dad sold the piano without even offering it to me first. That is a small wound in my heart. I still know the feeling of drifting to sleep, listening to my mom play. The only real conversation we've had in the last two years was the five minutes when I visited Tex and Dad took me to visit her, and I started singing, "Down by the Old Mill Stream" for her. Suddenly, she bent over where she was sitting, as though she were pulling something, and began to sing - every note. The words were largely unintelligible, but I could hear enough to know they were the right words.

    We were singing together. I was the only person in the family who had ever offered that to her. And I believe nobody has offered it since.

    My mother is more a memory now than anything else. And her memory is buoyed up by the music, the old music she used to play at that piano. I know I never did the job right. But she did.

  2. I loved this post! I have only polished my nails, furniture (when it's real wood, which most of mine isn't), the car (3 times), a gawdy-looking tea set (which is pitiful to look at when it's black and which is only in my China cabinet to fill up the space), and what matters to me most: my manners. I work on those all the time because most of the world doesn't and it's sorely missed.

  3. wow...great trip down memory lane. loved the pic of the apts. you were always much braver than i.

    glad to see you polishing your wotd skills again! you are the best!

  4. What a great post. I love hearing about your life and how you became my amazing, funny, cute, fabulous mom! I do recall your lessons on dusting, always with the grain, put some muscle into it, but I never knew the history behind it.

  5. That was good reading! Made me recall all my little odd jobs as a kid. That's a pretty great time of life, actually.

  6. i just love you cori connors!! and by the way, i read your mind, or you read mine- because before i read it was was wanting that adorable vintage bag as a temple bag! lucky girl, that kate! :)

  7. What a lovely post. I'm currently going through a different kind of polishing- my hard edges are being worn off and I am trying to be the person I should becomoe. I too use the the chewing gum technique to ward off weird smells and I also find comfort watching wheel of fortune with my elderly friends.