Have you noticed how your favorite old bachelor friend's place has run down since the last time you were there --- even though the last time you were there you thought to yourself that it couldn't possibly get any worse?
For years my friend Greensleeves typified the middle-aged man who has lived alone too long: Untrimmed grass leading up to the side door. Unpainted steps on a sagging porch. Handy equipment --- axe, shovel, bucket of sand for winter ice, burlap bag bulging with a set of tire chains, unused broom, coat and hat on nail, hammer, saw, three or four bricks, innumerable small and unidentifiable, but extremely valuable items --- in the entry. Antique wallpaper in kitchen covered with soot and cobwebs. Thick coating of dust on everything, except a certain area on the kitchen table, which shows signs of recent use. On table bright blue fired in 1947 Mexican plate --- leaking lead --- containing two pork chop bones from last meal. Two A & P sugared donuts --- hard as hockey pucks --- in box with cellophane window. Can of Carnation milk, with two holes punched in cover by nail. Assorted screws, nails and several quite dead electrical switches from junked 1974 Plymouth. Mounds that might be kitchen chairs filled with items of clothing and stacks of unread junk mail, some secured by rubber bands. Sofa partially covered with gamey blanket so dog won't cut feet on protruding springs. Cardboard boxes filled with important papers. Calendar last turned in July --- 1971.
One very thin towel hung on wooden rack in bathroom. Tub with four legs. Bottom of each leg shaped like claw clutching ball. Mold on walls and ceiling from years of steamy baths. One unopened bottle of Old Spice shaving lotion on shelf --- Christmas gift in 1963 from schoolteacher friend who received 29 bottles of Old Spice as Christmas gifts in 1954. Rusty tin medicine cabinet with mirror. Several toilet paper roll cardboard centers under wash basin. Pan also under basin to catch drip.
Rinsed plastic milk containers around black iron kitchen sink. Twelve years' worth of washed out small jars, still defended as destined for the workshop as valuable containers for rusty nails. Linoleum worn black on counter completely missing behind the dripping faucets. Cupboard shelves covered with newspapers dated January 1, 1974 --- mementos of the last half hearted pick-up, clean up. Several dozen quarts of rhubarb cold-packed by Aunt Ami in 1971. A can of scouring powder with a Dutch girl brandishing a stick on it --- a message from Uncle Sam on the back reminds one that saving the metal ends will help defeat the Axis.
Thick crop of dust balls on all floors, except for paths between strategic areas --- bed, bathroom, kitchen table. Brown cloth curtains that would crack if folded.
Grim? Most women might find it so. But a middle age man doesn't notice it. His home is a fact of life. He has not created his immediate surroundings --- it has simply grown around him as he has gone about his everyday affairs.
In such a manner Greensleeves lived happily for years. Then, two months ago he met the perfect woman. Things started to change.
She was smart. Little by little, she vacuumed up the dust, easing him into the new order, as it were. A week later every dish was washed and replaced in scrubbed cupboards on store-bought shelf paper.
As soon as my friend adjusted to that, she got down on her hands and knees and scrubbed all the floors in the house. In the meantime, she had convinced him to sort through overflowing cardboard boxes that had commandeered his entire house for years. Greensleeves made more trips to the dump that month than he had over the past 15 years.
Sensing that he was delighted with her need for order, she shifted her maneuvers onto fresh ground. After sweeping out his cellar she hosed down the walls and scrubbed the floor.
While resting each day, she did his wash and prepared tasty, nourishing meals.
I know for a fact that Greensleeves almost cried for joy when his friend scraped and painted his house and glazed all the windows. Most any woman could have done it, but not while weeding two acres of vegetables.
When she butchered his two pigs and packed them in the freezer, we all figured our old bachelor buddy was a goner. But he isn't seeing her anymore. When I asked him why, he said he was ashamed to be seen in public with a woman who always had such raw, chapped hands.
© 1988 Robert Skoglund