From Dito Sevilla. Email him at dito[AT]borderstan.com, follow him on Twitter @DitoDC.
When my grandmother learned she was to come to the United States with her husband in the spring of 1943, she took action. She started packing. Not one to travel lightly, and presumably attributable to my grandfather’s job, with its titles such as “ambassador extraordinary and plenipotentiary,” she needed stuff; lot’s of stuff.
Alongside her high hopes, trepidations and trousseau came a daunting array of china, silver, and linens. What she brought next, she valued above anything material. That which she could not leave behind, nor live without, was help, good help. Along with a dozen other lucky volunteers who were packed for the journey, eager for their own new lives, were Amadita, Carlotta and Emelina — her lady’s maid, her hairdresser, and her cook.
Not the stereotypical French Maid type, she was short, stout, elbow-grease and spit will-remove-anything. Vidalia was my girl. She entered our lives shortly after she fell by “slipping” on a non-slip hexagonal Metro tile, like so many others who have tried to sue Metro, and lost.
Even now almost 80 yeas later I realize that our acorns must not fall far from our trees. I, too, (though on a 1/16th scale) require certain stuff. I don’t travel light, and I wouldn’t want to live without help. I could, sure. But why deny others the opportunity to make my life better? Why not help the economy, and why fold my own laundry?
Meanwhile, not having the same access to good help, as it was Mimi’s good fortune to have, I was faced with a dilemma. How could I find someone reliable, honest, and trustworthy — never mind hard working and discreet?
Who could I trust to dust my frivolous collections? Who could I hire to carefully empty the Amana of the single load of dishes I generate on a monthly basis? And theft! Where could I find a cleaning lady (it had to be a lady, it simply HAD TO BE A LADY. One of DC gay lore’s longest held fantasies involved a former porn-star-turned-house-boy named Rodney… “He’s great at windows” my friend insisted. I thought not.)?
My mission was to find a cleaning lady who wouldn’t steal my VCR, wasn’t a former (or current) adult film star, someone dependable, someone who likes dogs, a lady. It should have been easy. Along with most of my family’s traits, our traditions don’t skip a generation — they’re simply diluted. Along with his brothers and sisters, my father inherited each and every trait his parents had to offer them. Along with thick skin, nice teeth and easily expanding waistlines came charm, wit, and a great sense of humor. Hiding beneath those attributes, is the inherit need for stuff, and help to clean and polish the stuff.
Who then better to help me get my life in order than one of the loyal, long serving ladies who for decades worked cleaning, cooking, sewing, and lovingly helping to raise us?
“Anyone!” said my cousin, “Never hire from within. You can’t share maids! They spy, tell them everything!” “What… who?” I was confused. “I’m not running a drug ring, I just want my sheets ironed.”
“You’ll see,” she warned, lips pursed. She knew I’d need to see it for myself. I just wanted someone to leave my apartment smelling like it did when we were kids, the unmistakable aroma of cleanliness: a noxious mélange of Windex, Lemon Pledge, PineSol and Clorox.
Of course, she was right. Though still, I would have to find out for myself. After perusing the vast pool of lucky ladies from family and extended family staffers, I settled on Vidalia. Not the stereotypical French Maid type, she was short, stout, elbow-grease and spit will-remove-anything. Vidalia was my girl. She entered our lives shortly after she fell by “slipping” on a non-slip hexagonal Metro tile, like so many others who have tried to sue Metro, and lost.
She was down on the ground, down on her luck and down to her last few bucks when her infectious laugh first filled our house. Though her smile was big, her talents were limited. She was after all short, a portly 4 foot 11, sporting a pair of little arms mounted not unlike those of a T-Rex. Together with her height, they gave her a range of motion not exceeding 7 feet. Compounding her limited reach was her refusal to use anything as “dangerous” as a stepladder. Claiming to have trouble with balancing herself — a dubious story, but one bolstered by her red line “slip,” and thus a claim we were unwilling to test given her litigious history.
It was an outdated version of the Yellow Pages that provided Vidalia the 5-inch boost she needed to get to the tall shelves. So, as had my aunts and then my own parents, I looked beyond the physical, around the mental, and settled on Vidalia for her enthusiasm, and personality. And like them, to this day I am not exactly sure why I did.
Not long thereafter, week after week my apartment began to take on the odor of home. The transition was instantaneous. Some mornings I cried, not from joy exactly, but from a result of fumes created by whatever noxious gases are created by the liberal mixing of ammonia and chlorine wafting directly into my eyes, forcing me to see clean as well as smell it. Through watery eyes I could see that everything gleaned. I was pleased; we got along well, often conversing through her weekly visits. She laundered; she folded, piled and sorted. Equally charmed was Gnocchi, a dog so happy I never have seen, and likely high on the fumes Vidalia produced. All was well, but then came brunch with most of the family.
Just through the door, the questions began. “Hello. How are you? You look great. What’s going on? Were you up late? Did you have ANOTHER party? I didn’t know you liked beer? Who was that guy? You still use four pillows? Amor, it’s bad for your back.” From every corner of the room, sprang aunts & mothers with new concerns. I deflected, ignored, grabbed a plate, downed a mimosa and went to find my cousin.
There she was, in the kitchen. No surprise.
“What’s up with everybody, they’re all up in my business?”
Through pouted lips magnifying her deep cupid’s bow, her tone conspiratorial, but feigning concern- she let me know, “I told you, they Gossip! Now everyone knows when you get up, what’s in your fridge, who spends the night, what’s in your trash! I told you…”
My god, I had been harboring a double agent. Like the onion after which she was named, Vidalia revealed layer after layer, and each one stank. It was no chemical mix of cleaning agents that brought me to tears, No, it was this little onion. That was it! Out she went, never to return to my apartment. I needed my own cleaning lady, someone loyal to me, not to share other people’s gossip.
A tradition I was going to start and hand down to my friends. The search began, but little did I know what I would get in exchange of my Vidalia. For it would only be a week or two before Sister’s Cleaning Service entered my life and still hasn’t left.