Cleaning the Fridge with Toothbrushes

Cleaning the Fridge with Toothbrushes

A Story by Erin Lee

Exerpt from memoirs about my crazy Aunt (Awwwww. Revenge is sweet! ...The power of the written word!)


 Cleaning the Fridge with Toothbrushes


All of my childhood disappointments and triumphs were put into perspective when I was 12. Ron had been complaining for months of back pain at night. I used to roll my eyes at him, telling him I was onto him. I knew the little s**t had to be faking something. He just didn’t want to go to bed. He was pulling a trick I wish I’d thought of and gaining Mom and Dad’s sympathies in order to stay up late past The Incredible Hulk and Dukes of Hazzard to watch Dallas with them. I was sure of it. And I envied him for it. Little f****r!


What I didn’t envy him for was the surgery we found out he needed a few months later. It turned out that my then-favorite little brother had some sort of a kidney blockage. It was a genetic thing but it was quite serious at the time. This blockage was what was causing his pain and he was going to need an intensive surgery at Boston Children’s Hospital in Boston, MA. I was petrified.


While my parents assured us both that he would be perfectly fine, I could see that he was rapidly losing weight and I was more than sure he was going to die. My mother’s cousin, Janice, had died at age 13 from a kidney condition and I had my head set that this would also be my brother’s fate. The little brat had found one last way to get my parents’ full attention. And I couldn’t even hate him for it. I was too worried about what life would be like without him.


My parents didn’t give us much information about Ron’s health. Nor did they prep my brother Matt and I for the impending visit from Aunt Mary. Mary was set to take over for Mom while she and Dad stayed at the hospital with Ron. Convinced they would soon be picking out a coffin for my brother, I assured my mother I would behave for Mary and would keep an eye on Matt for her. I knew how important it would be for my parents to be able to focus on Ron and I wanted to do everything I could possibly do to help.

Mary arrived with an onslaught of suitcases. Had I not known she’d only be with us for a week or two, I’d have been quite sure she was moving in. Day One of Mary’s visit was actually quite nice. She let us pick out anything we wanted for dinner " grilled cheese sandwiches " and spoiled us with a trip to the local ice cream stand, King Kone. This won’t be so bad, I thought. Maybe Ron will be okay after all.


But by Day Two, Mary had plans that didn’t involve double-dipped Frosties and rainbow sprinkles. Instead, she’d risen early that morning and taken a full inventory of the house. Particularly, the refrigerator. “Oh, your poor mother!” she exclaimed. “She’s been too busy to clean the fridge. She’s been so worried about your brother!” Too busy since 1978?, I thought, wondering what planet Aunt Mary had arrived from. Certainly it was not the same planet from which my mother.


Mom was not a housekeeper. She swore that cleaning house was a waste of time. After all, the house was only going to get messy again. And who could blame her? With all sons and a husband whose version of helping around the house was putting his own clothes in the hamper, she was sort of outnumbered. Mom used to save cleaning the kitchen floors for last when we were having company. Secretly, she’d confessed to me, she hoped that people would arrive early so she would have an excuse for not having accomplished that daunting task.


I sat at the kitchen table, missing Ron, and thinking about what I’d do for the day while Aunt Mary proceeded to unload the contents of the fridge on the kitchen counter. Maybe I’d work on my fort with Lori. Or maybe I’d go swimming with Jenn. Maybe today was a good day for making a stretchy rope with Jenn that would stretch the length of all of Woodbine Lane. The last time we’d done this, we’d managed to get 2/3rds of the way down the street. Today seemed like a day of great potential! Maybe today we could get all the way down the road!


My daydreams were cut short by my aunt’s words. “Go and get a toothbrush from the bathroom,” she said.

“Hugh? Why do you need a toothbrush?”

“I don’t need a toothbrush. You do,” she said.

“I’m not done eating breakfast yet! I’ll brush my teeth when I’m done my cereal.”

“You don’t need the toothbrush for your teeth, silly! You need it to scrub out the fridge!”


My jaw dropped. Now, I’d heard of people cleaning with toothbrushes. I guess they were good for getting in the small crevices of things? I wasn’t sure. But what I was sure of was that I wasn’t keen on the idea of finding out first hand. Did this woman have no heart? Tease a girl with King Kone and then stomp on her last two weeks of summer with toothbrush cleanings? What was wrong with her, anyway? Did she not know my brother was dying, my parents hadn’t noticed I was alive for the better part of the summer, my baby, baby brother needed changing, and I had better things to do than care about dirt that my mother wouldn’t have noticed if it was two inches from her face?

They say oldest children are good for issuing guilt trips. Whoever “they” are, they are right. After my protests, Mary looked at me and said, quite simply, “We need to do this for your mother, Erin. She needs our help.”


The next seven days or so was filled with what I pegged “Travels of the Toothbrush” chores. You’d be amazed to see the places a toothbrush can go: under the rim of a toilet bowl, between the niches of a kitchen sink, under stove burners, behind counter tops, and so on. On the seventh day, Jesus rested. On the seventh day, I crouched behind the couch, hoping Mary wouldn’t see me. Breakfast wasn’t worth it. I needed an escape from this crazy cleaning lady whom I was sure I could not possibly be related to.

Mary was helping Matt get dressed when I made my escape. It was too my friend Jenn’s house I went. And I went fast. I rode my Huffy three-speed as fast as I possibly could. I was down the entire length of Woodbine in under a minute and neatly tucked in her basement in under two. There, we spent the entire day playing Barbie dolls and getting lessons in sex education from big sister Heather. Watching Ken and Barbie screw was far more entertaining than hearing about how my poor mother must just “not have had time” to do things I knew she hadn’t even ever considered doing. Just how many times could a person clean the same closet anyway? Nawww. She wouldn’t miss me. And if she did? So what!


I knew what I was doing when I did it. I knew Mary had no clue who Jenn or her family was. She’d have had to knock on every door in the neighborhood to find me. And who’d do that when they were busy shining up the wood and taking stock in Mr. Clean products anyway?


Growing up in the 80s, at least before the Adam Walsh incident, parents were pretty liberal about letting their kids play outside all day. The general rule for most of us was that you could go within a certain boundary " say, within a few set roads of your own street " but you had to be home by dark. All the parents in the neighborhood knew one another and watched out for each other’s kids. Lunchtime was often a matter of whose house was closest. But come dark, we all knew it was time to go home.


Jenn’s mother sent me home for supper, entirely clueless of Aunt Mary’s now frantic and hours long search for me. When I got in the door, she didn’t need to give me a guilt trip. The look on her face said it all. The poor woman had been petrified.

“Oh! Thank God!” she flung herself at me. “I was just about to call the police! Where have you been? Why didn’t you tell me you were leaving? I was so worried!”

I didn’t have the heart to tell her I had purposely escaped in order to give myself a day of Sabbath. Instead, I apologized, shrugged, and told her not to worry about me, I was a “big kid.”


I’m not sure whether Mary was on to me about why I’d “run away” to the other end of the street that day, or if the house was just so sterile clean that there was nothing left to do, but she laid off on the cleaning after that day and the rest of our visit was pleasant.


When I was finally able to visit Ron in the hospital, I clung to my mother and demanded to know exactly when she was coming home " down to the hour and minute even. And when she did get home, I didn’t roll my eyes nearly as much as I once had when she asked me to do tiny things, like clear my plate from the table. I’ve never cleaned anything with a toothbrush since. And I had a newfound respect for Mom. Certainly, I had a newfound appreciation for the other end of the neighborhood...

© 2010 Erin Lee

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why hasnt anyone reviewed this yet? D:
well, i thought that this was pretty cool
i also thought that it was a bit funny that your aunt wouldnt know why you ran away
i dont really have any suggestions for this work, so i guess ill just say:
Awesome Job, man
and keep writing stuff like this ^-^

Posted 7 Years Ago

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Added on February 5, 2010
Last Updated on February 6, 2010
Tags: aunt, growing up, family, erin l george, memoirs, writing, toothbrushes