Every Saturday we kids worked with Mom until her place was hospital-clean. In fact I didn't see a truly dirty house until I was in my teens. But no way I can keep clean this half-log-cabin half-concrete-garage. It was built in 1930. The door and window sashes aren't true anymore. Nothing can be sealed. Fuss and scrambling occur in a certain closet, so I open it only to throw in a turquoise-colored cube that poisons mice. Mud, leaves, gravel, all get tracked in. Creatures get in: wasps, crickets, ants, wormy things with a thousand legs, sleek little skinks -- one who settled in the house finally needed a name, so I called him Harrison, and grew fond of him. I have a great stone fireplace but spiders live in the cracks and declivities, build webs from ceiling to lamps, have spider babies, and cast little papery silver capsules onto the mantel and floor. And dust/pollen, from the trees, that sifts in and covers every flat surface with its gauze.
Did I mention tar? Scuffmarks from boots? Motor oil? Faucets caked with hardened lime?
They say the way to clean is to prioritize. So, first, I try to evacuate the place. I warn my unwelcome guests with, "You have fifteen seconds to get out of my sight," and hope they listen. I sweep daily, vacuum up their webs and lairs about every fortnight, and mop the floors and clean the bathroom each month (unless company is coming), and in truly ambitious moments I will dust (although it's like the myth of Sisyphus), and pour baking soda and vinegar down the drains, and dribble corrosive on the calcifications around the faucets and then scrape them clean. But I have accepted there will never be even half a moment when this house will be Martha Stewart spotless and under control. There's too much of life here; no matter how I try I can't stamp it out. And I like it. That's why I live in a country house.