(It seems odd to post on Christmas Eve the joyous return of our steam vacuum cleaner, but I am a housewife. My path to holiness is a humble one, indeed.)
Last Christmas, my mother-in-law, the fastidious cleaner who was raised by hotel managers, answered my husband’s wish list by sending us a Bissell Pro-Heat Steam Cleaner. It was an unusual Christmas gift, much less one for a son.
Anyone who has attempted to raise many young children with an elderly dog in a small apartment with wall-to-wall beige carpeting can understand our wish. With every knocked over cup of coffee, every mud splatter or unmentionable “accident” our large apartment deposit was on the line. I’d banned the grape juice and enforced the “no shoes in the house rule.” Banning tea, coffee and grape jelly in the beige carpeted dining room seemed cruel. I spent hours spot cleaning with Resolve carpet cleaner. We rented vacuums from Safeway that cost over $100 per use. When were we just going to bite the bullet and shell out $250 for a Steam Cleaner? That’s when Grandma Benjamin decided to come to the rescue.
Within days I, the ever skeptical one who enjoys frivolous Christmas presents like books, was an enthusiastic convert. What a pleasure it is to clean when one has the right tools! Suddenly, spilled drinks weren’t such a big deal. It was much easier to keep perspective & practice meekness when the messy spills disappeared in seconds.
Over a year, the Bissell steam cleaner took quite a beating. In September, it was reduced to working only through the hand-held attachment. With our guests from Australia arriving in October, we decided to drop it off for a tune-up in mid-September. We chose a small, family-owned hardware store to do the repairs. Walking into the “Walters Appliance Store” feels like revisiting a hardware store in the 1950s.
“The man scowled at me when I dropped of the order,” Jon said when he returned. “That’s odd, the female clerk is always so friendly,” I answered. “Hum.” We shrugged our shoulders at the inconsistency that describes the pseudo-Southern hospitality of our new home and went on with the daily tasks of the day.
And so, gentle readers. My precious steam-cleaner vacuum cleaner sat and sat and sat in this quaint repair shop. In mid-October, 3 1/2 weeks after delivery, my husband happened to call. “We’re waiting on a part to be delivered, we never promised it would be done before six weeks” was the curt answer. “Oh well, no clean floors for the visiting 18 month old” we sighed.
I called two days before my folks came for Thanksgiving. “We just got in a big part order from Bissell, unfortunately the part you need is on back order. The company will ship it straight out in three to four days.” “Oh well, no clean carpets for Thanksgiving, maybe by the St. Nicholas party” I said.
On December 4, I called again. “Is our steam-cleaner fixed yet?” I asked hopefully. Instead of the nice clerks, I happened upon the surly one. What transpired next during our strained conversation can only be described as “provoking circumstances.”
I hung up the phone feeling so low. I was a girl who once commanded armies by phone (figuratively of course.) As a lawyer, my phone calls could produce results. Now I was a frazzled housewife who couldn’t even get the vacuum repairman to acknowledge that thirteen weeks was quote “a long time” to wait for an ordered part to appear.
“I can still write a letter!” I thought angrily. As I nursed the baby, I composed all sorts of fiery language. My letter of complaint to the boss was going to be expertly worded, subtly crafted. It was going to get me noticed and get the job done, by Jove! Somewhere in the midst of this imaginary tirade with computer screen, I remembered I wanted the vacuum quickly for the sole reason of entertaining neighbors on St. Nicholas’ Feast Day. Somehow, evasive threats of legal action didn’t fit into the spirit of my plan.
Christian charity demanded that I forgive the repair guy. But I wasn’t going to be a sissy and let such behavior go. I drafted a second imaginary letter telling the guy that I was forgiving him in the spirit of Christmas, but he better appreciate it! At that point, I realized the whole letter writing campaign was fruitless.
I felt sad. I was just a woman, who through no fault of her own was without a steam cleaner and without means to hire a visit from Stanley Steam-Cleaner. I’d clean and decorate the apartment to the best of my abilities. The mud tracks could be hidden with throw rugs. The coffee stains under the dining room table had remained through three sets of house guests and would just have to remain for three more.
“I just want to have the rugs clean by Christmas. I want the house clean & looking shiny for baby Jesus.” That was my soft, resigned prayer after the anger over the Appliance Store had disappeared.
Last week “call the Appliance Store” slipped off the “must do list.” It got displaced by choir practice, Adoration and the massive hunt for rechargeable D batteries. “I guess the steam cleaner won’t appear by Christmas” I thought.
So it was a clear shock when at 10:30 Christmas Eve, we got a message on the answering machine. “This is Elvis from Walters. You’re steam cleaner is ready for pick-up.” I called back immediately; the clerk had no record of my repair being finished in the computer. “Ah figures,” I thought. I braced myself for more disappointment. After the clerks fact-checking mission he returned. “Your vacuum is finished. It’s under warranty, so there is no charge.”
Finished! No Charge? Jon and I did the happy dance.
While the men in my house went to pick up the vacuum cleaner, I started cleaning the floors of toys and debris. (I want it on record that I’m so trained as a mother of a young son that when I found the two fist-size rocks and a large stick in my hall closet, I recognized these as precious playthings and swept AROUND them.)
What are the chances that this task would wait for three months and suddenly be finished Christmas Eve. Christmas Eve. So that Christmas Morning my family can sit on clean carpet to open their presents. So my baby can learn to crawl without dirt sticking to her knees. So that my husband’s mold allergy attacks can subside. So that my son & I can renew our commitment to potty training with new vigor.
The “second year of the Steam-Cleaner for Christmas,” as this humble miracle is now called at my house, has taught me something else. You can get what you pray for. If your asking for the right things for the right reasons, you get what you need when you need it.
That’s a lesson in faith that our material needs will be met to carry over in 2008 as we face massive car repairs, Hannah’s Catholic school tuition, and a hundred other unexpected crisis for a family of five.
And the second lesson, is that it should be easy to practice “meekness”. If we have access to the amazing power of saintly intercession, it should be easier for me to keep my temper. After all, we access to an unimaginable power and aid. It will be easier to practice meekness in the future if I remember that I have St. Nicholas on my side to insure that my families’ holy feasts will be celebrate with clean floors to match our clean hearts.