Muscadine Lines: A Southern Journal

Living With Mrs. Clean

Harvey L. Gardner

Eleanor Roosevelt once observed that Marines have the cleanest bodies and dirtiest minds in the world.

She said that because she got her feelings hurt when the Marines skipped a reception she planned for them on the West Coast when they arrived on ships bringing them home from the war in the Pacific.

General Chesty Puller explained to Mrs. Roosevelt that the first thing the Marines wanted to do was get a drink of whiskey, and the second thing was to find a girl.

I don’t know how many sailors and soldiers skipped the party. I just heard the Marine Corps version of the story. But I hope Mrs. Roosevelt remembered the general’s advice the next time she threw a party for some servicemen.

For a good turnout at your party serve lots of booze and invite plenty of girls. It’ll work every time.

Now that I think about it, you’d get lots of politicians, too. But I digress.

My parents taught me that cleanliness was next to Godliness. This certainly applied to personal hygiene, but there was also talk of cleaning my room from time to time.

I didn’t perfect habitual cleanliness until I lived for a few months in the same house with four big, loud, persistent, and overbearing Marine Corps Drill Instructors. Those guys had a way of helping you remember things like changing your socks and polishing the heels of your shoes.

But even the Marine Corps allowed us to get dirty occasionally without falling to pieces over it. For example, they didn’t make us shine our boots and wash our skivvies while we were under enemy fire.

The Marine noncoms instinctively knew when we were reaching our breaking point, so they cut us a little slack. However, that isn’t the case with my wife. There is no slack in her string.

Marriage to her has turned out to be a tad more demanding than the Marine Corps. Early in my marriage an incident occurred that illustrates my point.

One Saturday afternoon, I was looking forward to watching a ballgame on TV while reading a good book and enjoying a few snacks. As I’ve said before, I’m a junk food junkie. Reading and watching TV are enhanced tremendously by large quantities of junk food.

I selected my book, settled in my easy chair, and clicked on the TV set. During the pre-game chatter, I put my book down on the coffee table and went to the kitchen to fix myself a Coke. I was trying to exercise enough self-control to delay snacking until the half. I figured Cokes didn’t count.

When I came back into the living room, my book was missing from the coffee table.

“What happened to my book?” I asked, genuinely puzzled.

“Oh. I put it back on the shelf. I thought you were finished with it. Aren’t you going to watch TV?”

“Yes,” I said, setting my Coke on the table while I went to the bookcase to retrieve my book. “I can watch TV and read at the same time.”

I fetched the book and returned to my chair, eager to start both my book and my ballgame. When I reached for my Coke, I discovered it was gone.

“What happened to my Coke?” I asked, getting a little frustrated by now.

“Oh. I poured it out and put the glass in the dishwasher. I thought you were finished with it.”

I tucked my book safely under my arm and took it with me to the kitchen to get myself another drink. I didn’t take my hands, nor my eyes, off either of them the rest of the afternoon.

If my wife ever comes to your house, I’d advise you to straighten your pictures and organize your magazine rack, or you’ll have to follow Linda around the house while she does it for you.

This woman is Mrs. Clean. I’ve learned things from her that my mother, my two older sisters, my old maid aunt-home-economics-teacher, and the United States Marine Corps never knew about cleanliness and housekeeping. I don’t live in a home. I live in a Home Demonstration House. Martha Stewart is a slob compared to Linda.

Coming into your house, Martha would say, “This lovely home has a nice lived-in look.

Linda would say, “I can fix this.”

My daughter, who flunked out of Linda’s School Of Immaculate Perfection, and her family recently visited her in-laws in Italy for about three weeks. I promised to keep the grass cut and fix a broken closet door while they were gone.

With toolbox in my hand, I unlocked April’s front door. As I pushed it open, Linda charged past me with a determined look in her eye.

“Stand back,” she said. “I have some serious cleaning to do here.”

I’ve never seen a happier woman. She had three weeks in which to have her way with April’s house. It was a mother’s dream, come true.


Harvey L. Gardner is an author, columnist, speaker, and consultant. He is a former newspaper editor and publisher and has authored two books. He writes a popular human interest/humor column, "Tantalizing Trivialities," a mixture of fun, frivolity, nostalgia, inspiration, humor, love, marriage, tall tales, work, and other absurdities. He publishes "Harvey Gardner's Marketing Tips," an online newsletter. He lives in White House, Tennessee. His website is

© Harvey L. Gardner

Muscadine Lines: A Southern Journal ISSN 1554-8449, Copyright © 2004-2012