I proudly shared the little kitten in one of my first grade show and tell appearances. Learning to embroider was an excitement for any pre-schooler, but also extremely impressive by a four and a half year old to five year old peers! Yes! I had indeed embroidered it all by myself, admitting that I accepted only a little help from Alice, my kind neighbor who lived with her aging father, two doors down on Rubberneck Avenue.
Alice was one of many neighbors who liked my visits; thus, she had offered to teach me embroidery. True to character, my mother recycled an old piece of sheeting (complete with a scorch mark) for my first project. My subject was one of the days of the week kittens that were so popular in the fifties; mine was a kitten vacuuming under the word CLEAN; in the upper corner hung a shelf complete with a candle and cobweb and the word FRIDAY was boldly blocked out at the bottom. I sat under Alice’s watchful and caring eyes. While I don’t remember how long it took me to finish the kitten piece, I do remember the welcoming, sunlit seating Alice provided for me – it was by the window on my little bench, in her large open kitchen wherein she could do her cooking and laundering and ironing, engaging me in a friendly chat.
I must have really liked pink: the upright vacuum’s shell, the cobweb and the kitten’s head scarf were all in pink. In my little world, kittens had to be gray with blue eyes, but this one also wore a blue check apron and red lipstick just like Mom. My kitten carried a feather duster of gold threads; bits of brown and green completed the remaining details. When I look at the balance of the color placement, I’m sure Alice must have suggested the colorful repetition.
As with many of our childhood projects, Mom tucked it away. She gave the kitten to me several years later and I had it framed in brass with a red mat for my own kitchen. All of this seemed only too perfect and coincidental, now that I was the young wife of a self-employed vacuum repairman! Guests who entered our home would eye the little kitten and her vacuum on my kitchen wall and delighted in my story behind it.
Yes, we had purchased a ma and pa vac shop. It was my job to complete the parts ordering, follow up calls, and learn the differences between horse power and watts when rating a motor; or differentiate between the sound of a worn bearing and that of a broken fan. I was a quick student, learning the basics and the product knowledge amid some surprises -some good, some not so good. As a whole, I managed well enough for an east bay city slicker now living her life among the townspeople in Northern California.
I was really excited the day I sold my first vacuum! My customer and I “bonded quickly” so, after the completed transaction, I called Mom to share my good news. True to her forthright manner, she remarked
Annette, I didn’t even know you knew how to RUN a vacuum!
One of the more comical phases during these early years was the “Which vacuum do I own this week?” My repairman husband was no fool; if a buying customer came in the shop looking for a good used Rainbow, or Compact, or Electrolux, he’d produce one to order in record time!
No problem, I can have one for you by Friday; I’ll call you when it’s ready!
True to his word – even if it meant taking mine from home – the wished-for carpet cleaner was thoroughly cleaned, refurbished and gleaming in order to offer a ninety day commercial warranty on it. Voila! The repairman was beaming and the customer absolutely delighted!
Change was good; at least, that was the mantra that all the homemaking magazines preached. So, when I next opened up the cleaning closet and discovered another new oldie but goodie, I accepted this new “surprise” and never once looked the repairman in the mouth! It was up to me to acquaint myself with the new canister or upright and its multiple features. As the “ma” half of this partnership, I soon discovered that this practice was going to be standard operating procedure in our shop, so it was better to just go along with the plan and enjoy the art of homemaking…