Some decades ago, on one of those school’s-out days in early spring when the sun has not yet chased winter’s cold and a youngster doesn’t feel like leaving the house, I decided, half out of boredom, to help my working mom by cleaning the white kitchen sink. She was rather neat, though not compulsive (didn’t have time for that), and the three-year-old basin was usually spotless. I liked that look -- still do -- and so the other half of the motivation was to keep it bright on this particularly lazy day.
It was 1956, in former country that was becoming a New York City suburb in Hillcrest, N.Y., with small, expandable Cape Cod-style homes rising monthly and selling for about $14,000, all with white kitchen sinks. Not every basin was extra-clean, however, owing to humanity’s variety. One neighbor was particularly messy, another left dishes in the sink without visitation rights for days. But just down Karnell Street and off on Orchard was Mrs. Broat, whose kitchen in toto was shiny enough to be in Tiffany’s windows.
My mom was simply neat, as a housemaker, as a person as a mother. She worked all my years with her but also managed, with my father’s hands-on help, to keep a home going as well. Sinks included.
On that school’s-out day, I had just finished the 9 a.m. movie on Channel 9, invariably a 1930s or 1940s black and white -- a Great Depression “comedy” or some film noir -- when I walked into the kitchen to round up Saltines with butter. That was enjoyed at a Formica-covered table with four-inch chrome moulding popular in the mid-1950s. The chair also had chrome legs and the seats were over-padded with thick vinyl in the optimistic pastel colors of the day, especially aquamarine, pink and gray.
Snacking over and moving to the white kitchen sink to wash a glass, I realized it wasn’t as shiny as usual. Since I had nothing to do, I reached below for the Bab-O, then a popular cleanser containing bleach. It sure got everything clean, and its strong smell and reactive foaming action made you think you were restoring whatever to factory new.
For 20 minutes, I used probably one-quarter of the Bab-O to scour the sink and the faucets. About half-a roll of toweling later, it sparkled as well as it ever did. I knew my mother would be happy. I already was since the kitchen now had the same sense of order usually given it on “cleaning Saturday.” No compulsion here, but it set the day right for me, killed time and made me feel as if I was contributing the house I lived in.
All that, until the Bab-O Moment was obliterated in a second when my brother Craig, neat enough but no sink washer, tossed a bowl of orange peels into the jewel of a white basin just before my mother walked in the door with her tired dogs in her work shoes. She tackled the sink within minutes.