What I learned about life from my grandmother’s big spring clean
I could never put my finger on why I enjoyed the museum so much. Old stuff put up in glass boxes or hung from ceilings with dates and descriptions was not the best way to entertain a child, but I was intrigued.
I have always liked museums. Growing up, I was particularly excited for school trips that involved museum excursions. I could never put my finger on why I enjoyed the museum so much. Old stuff put up in glass boxes or hung from ceilings with dates and descriptions was not the best way to entertain a child, but I was intrigued.
I grew up mostly with my father. Everything in my father’s house was new, and almost every year there were minor renovations, either changing the tiles of the floor, painting the walls a different colour, putting up new ceiling lights or buying new ornaments and curtains. The house was big and spacious. Everything was orderly and in its place.
My mother’s life was worlds apart from my father’s. For one, my mother lived with my grandmother. My grandmother’s house was not spacious. It was a typical government house, filled with anything and everything, most of which I never saw the use for and deemed to be rubbish.
There were never any renovations. The asbestos roof never got changed, the walls were painted once in my lifetime, old curtains were washed and hung again, old ornaments were put into the sun, brass liquid added to them and then rubbed off until they shone and sparkled like the sun at dawn.
Growing up in these two worlds exhausted me and gave me some anxieties. When I thought of my mother’s home I thought of never-ending chores and a house filled with stuff. In my father’s house, there was help and everything was cleaned without my effort or initiative, unlike at my mother’s. It also did not help that I was her only daughter.
When I was at my mother’s house I had sudden anxiety at how, even though they tried their best to be neat, for me it was never neat enough. I realise now that it was. The house was not spacious enough.
One day, in December, my grandmother decided to have the annual spring clean, even though it was summer. My older brother helped bring down the boxes, plastics and bags piled upon the wardrobe. My duty was to clean the room divider, but I stopped to see what my brother was doing.
The bags had kilos of dust on them. My grandmother dusted them and opened them. Inside was fabric, tablecloths and other clothes. Suddenly my brother whipped out a black afro wig and put it on. Then he pulled out my grandmother’s hide skirt, given to her when she got married, and made from the cow that was slaughtered for her.
My brother wore them and pretended to be a woman. We all laughed, and my grandmother began telling us the tales of every garment in the bag, every ornament, every tablecloth, every bag, wig, and other stuff in the house.
These things I deemed useless, these things I sometimes wished were thrown away to make space in the house, were markings of the journey my grandmother had been on in her life. She was a hustler, and nothing in that house came easy. Most of it was not bought. Employees, friends, and husbands – she was married twice – gave them to her, and so she cherished everything because everything had a story.
Another person would call my grandmother a hoarder, but what I have learnt is that I enjoy museums, because I grew up in one.