The art of maintaining a clean, neat home was second nature to Lou. Never did dirty dishes clutter the kitchen sink, nor did dust gather as tiny tumbleweeds within the seams of a coiled rug that she vacuumed at least three times a week. Her children were still toddlers. Both boys crawled around in heavily bleached diapers. Never did a speck of filth ever cover the boys’ tiny fingers and toes. When women were still housewives and not pursuing careers, homes were much cleaner and as neat as closely cut fingernails on infants that are trimmed back with the careful bite of a loving mother’s teeth.
Lou’s home was considered impeccably clean, even during a time when almost all women were housewives; back when mothers understood that cleanliness is next to godliness, during a time when fathers were still breadwinners and men of the house.
She knitted. Lou stitched a little every day, starting promptly at 11 a.m. With the jab of a needle into seemingly endless loops, her overworked fingers clicked and tugged yarn, unyielding a landscape of near- perfect knots that ran parallel in perfect unison, as rows dug within a garden in the early part of Spring.
After linoleum floors were scrubbed with a mop that was wrung out in an old tin pail, Lou went to work, piecing together sweaters and blankets that covered the ones she loved with a fuzzy embrace. She wanted the children to have pictures taken at Sears after the two blue sweaters were complete. Her husband Barry’s brown and gold garment matched the blue sweaters for their sons to the stitch– only Barry’s was much larger, yet he himself looked childish in what she had made for him. She couldn’t wait to have the pictures taken. She dreamed each moment a new knot was tied upon a steel needle that she held in her fingers as a writer may embrace a pen.
Every nick-nack in the house in need of dusting was wiped over twice with heavy sprays of Pledge polish and a recycled diaper. The furniture polish scented the home with a hint of a keepsake chest. Lou always managed to chase away the smell of beer that followed Barry around, like his two little sons who often bounced on his knee while he smoked cigarettes and blew smoke rings
The smell of a clean home made the art of knitting more enjoyable for Lou. Never did she miss a stitch or become impatient when she had to unweave rows of carefully embroidered cotton fibers, to re-do a miscount of loops that possibly occurred when one of her boys needed a diaper changed, when the phone rang, or after one of the kids had smeared jelly across the tube of the family’s black and white RCA television.
Afternoons passed quickly when Barry was away at work with knitting to keep Lou busy. Dinner was put on sharply at four, and the kids were changed into sleeping pajamas at five, minutes before Dad was due home.
Barry was late, so the kids ate in high chairs without him. Lou wasn’t hungry. Deer steak that had been rolled in flour and fried in Crisco went cold. She worried. Needles clicked as the sun went down under Stone Cree Ridge. Barry returned home at Ten, not particularly concerned about the anger that would poke at the nerves of his wife and jab at him as harsh words of warning were tied around his heart. He simply didn’t care.
“Where’s your sweater, Barry?”
“Oh shit– I left it at the legion.”
“Go get it now.”
Barry drove off and was gone until Midnight, returning with a hand knitted sweater tainted with the smell of a bar.
Barry never saw his sweater again. Lou kept her cool by starting to knit a dress. As each new stitch was sewn she grew more angry, hoping for a little girl, perhaps she could change Barry’s ways. One never came between the two of them. The boys seemed to grow at the rate in which she sewed new things, yet she never lifted a thumb to mend for the man for whom she once adored keeping a clean home for.
“What did you do with my good sweater, Lou?” Barry asked, several weeks later on a cold Sunday morning, while suffering from a hangover.
“I gave it to my Dad, you bastard.”