Time for a scrubdown

There is something to be said for scrubbing a floor.

It’s not a job I relish, in theory. But today I decided that the kitchen floor could no longer be excused. It needed a serious cleaning. Not one of those flimsy sliding pre-moistened wipedowns that just gets the top layer of dirt and spreads the rest around. A get-down-on-your-knees, break-out-the-Murphy’s-Oil, soap-and-scrub-brush-and-get-it-clean kind of cleanings.

It’s a funny old floor, a Depression-era green linoleum that undoubtedly contains asbestos and therefore lasts forever and is dangerous to remove. I like it. But I discovered soon after first trying to clean it that too much water loosens the ancient glue that holds it in place. So scrubbing it is a fussy kind of job, one I don’t do as often as I should.


But every time I do, I’m reminded of memories that make me happy. I remember my mom helping me scrub the hardwood floors in the old house where my kids grew up. She reminisced about her time in a Catholic convent as we scrubbed, side by side, with the windows open and the sun shining in.

“Scrubbing floors was the job nobody wanted there,” she said, “but I liked it. It got me away from everyone, and I didn’t have to talk. It was just me and the floor.”

In later years, I remembered what she said while I was on a Zen retreat weekend in Mount Tremper. I washed dishes and scrubbed the floor in the meditation hall, and focused on the job. My mom’s words came back to me, and I smiled.

Even the smell of the soap has an association. When I was young, I spent three years dating a guy who wasn’t very nice. But his father was a lovely, kind man. I sometimes think I stuck around for as long as I did because I knew how much I’d miss the bad boyfriend’s dad.

Each week, his dad scrubbed the kitchen floor of their home with Murphy’s Oil Soap. He did it because he liked to do it. Every Sunday, we’d go there for dinner and underneath the cooking smells was the lingering smell of that floor soap. Murphy’s reminds me of someone I was very fond of.

Spring is here, the windows are open. It’s time to say goodbye to the past, to think about a shift. This year, the shift seems bigger, and a lot less defined.

Spring cleaning is a fine tradition, and one that scrubs clean much more than just a floor.