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A House is Not A (Clean) Home

Now that Christmas is over (albeit our family is in the final day of Chanukah), a powerful force has taken over our house and fills every moment with anxiousness and anxiety. This demon sweeps over us every year yet somehow, we are never prepared for it. What is it? Why, preparations for New Years of course.

If you are not a Buddhahead, you will probably think I am nuts and wonder why anyone would be so terrified by the prospect of celebrating the end of 2011 and the start of 2012. Isn’t it a time to cast off all that was bad in the old year and look forward to the goodness that is coming with the new year? Well, no matter that the Lillian Tso Fung Shui for Tigers 2012 book my mom purchases from Longs Drugs every year says, there is no way I will have an auspicious year unless I tackle the number one item on the list that has been branded into my brain since the day I was born by my late great Grandma Tsuruyo: CLEAN THE HOUSE THOROUGHLY!

I find it extremely ironic that my Grandma pounded into me that the house had to be immaculate from December 31 to January 2nd because for the rest of the year, the house looked like it had gone through several hurricanes, a tsunami, invasion by the Huns, and enough oil to fry every malasada purchased in the last hour of the Punahou Carnival (oops, make that the “Other School” Carnival in case my kids are reading this). You could not walk through the kitchen without feeling like you had stepped onto a human sized Hoy Hoy Trap A Roach house—with each step, your foot getting more and more stuck in an unidentified shoyu-miso based substance. Yet, on those three days, you’d swear nobody ever cooked in that kitchen ever. Grandma even would remove the very crusty, crispy aluminum foil on her gas burners (of course, she didn’t throw them away but used them again on January 3rd).

It was really kind of jarring to walk to McCully Superette with Grandpa and return to the freshly cleaned home on Date Street. It was kind of Twilight Zone-ish like you were in an episode of Extreme Home Makeovers but Ty Pennington had neglected to inform you of your participation. That couch that you assumed was chacha rice brown had mysteriously been transformed into kagami mochi white. Masking taped broken rubber slippers were replaced with fresh from the box shoes that had been salted up for years. Toothless relatives showed up with new sets of choppers that click-clacked like trains during lunch. Uncles who looked as yogore as Tora-san were as sharp as Steve McGarrett with long sleeved rayon Aloha shirts to match. The thing is, I really didn’t like it—all I wanted to do was stand in a corner so I wouldn’t drop a stray hair anywhere or accidentally spill a drop of Exchange Orangeade when I took a step.

I attempted to follow in my Grandma’s three days of cleanliness footsteps once my husband and I had a house of our own. As we had the house with a view of the Ala Moana New Years fireworks show, we felt obligated to have the party. When we first had the twins and most of our friends had not yet migrated to the Mainland in search of better jobs, owning homes that did not require leaving home at 4 am to get to work by 8 am or wanting to buy cereal for less than $7 a box, we did actually clean our house in preparation for our deeply beloved illegal aerial fireworks-bearing friends and family members. This was way back when my mother was convinced that a single speck of dust would result in the twins contracting fresh-eating ebola (yes, back when she would spend 30 minutes wiping a shopping cart with Lysol and baby wipes before putting the twins in the seat—wiping two carts if they were anywhere but Costco with the double cart).

However, with the addition of dogs, the twins growing into adolescent “I don’t give a crap how messy my room is” attitudes, my youngest son’s penchant for leaving bowling balls everywhere and setting up mock bowling alleys on any flat surface, and our age-induced inability to bend or operate the vacuum cleaner without needing several applications of Tokuhon Chill, the New Years Eve parties have stopped at our house. Instead, we have moved everything (this year to include three dogs and a hairless guinea pig) to my parents’ home. On occasion, we have returned home to find friends in our yard or standing on our porch at 11:55 pm waiting for the fireworks show to start.

As I type this, I look out onto my living room and realize that unless I am able to recruit a team of a 100 germaphobes who are willing to work for free, there is no way this place will ever be clean by December 30, 3011 let alone 2011. You try doing battle with the following, armed with only a bottle of generic Febreze:

  • Muddy paw prints of assorted sizes, some with grass and remnants of shredded Pokemon stuffed animals inside
  • 3,000 dirty left socks, desperately seeking 3,000 clean right socks
  • Korean restaurant menus covered with ko choo jung sauce
  • 7-11 musubi wrappers, some with nori still inside
  • Three backpacks near the front door, dropped there on December 15, 2011 (start of Winter Break) with estimated time of pick up on January 3, 2012 (end of Winter Break)
  • Photographs of veterans from 2009 banquet, waiting to be scanned
  • Half-eaten shoes, fully eaten slippers
  • Enough books to re-launch the Borders chain in Hawaii
  • Every Angry Bird and Club Penguin item ever produced
  • Raisins, or on closer examination, guinea pig pellets

And that’s just on the living room table.

Perhaps, what keeps me from cleaning is a subconscious desire to recreate my Grandma’s house in my own home. When I lived in Los Angeles for law school and would come home, the first place I always wanted to go to when my plane touched down at HNL was my Grandparents’ home on Date Street (yes, the second place was to Zippy’s to have chili and macaroni salad).

I would smell the sweet Tahitian gardenia as I opened the car door and my nose would immediately start to run if it was mango season. If my Grandpa was in the house, I’d go down the abunai side of the yard rather than use the steps to get there even faster. I would trip over the Otafuku slippers at the front door as I ran into the house like I had done many, many times before (knowing full well that Grandpa would yell, “Ey, no slam da doa!” or “Close da doa, get plenny flies!” as I bounded in). I knew there would be a big black cast iron pan of my favorite—miso eggplant with tofu—on the stove with a freshly cooked pot of hot rice (a biggie since Grandma only made hot rice in the morning to put on the butsudan and we’d have this rice cold for dinner) and tea with that popcorn looking stuff inside. In later years, I’d go to McDonalds to buy my Grandpa’s favorite Filet-o-Fish and to St. Germain for some Tsubushi Anpan for Grandma.

Even though my Grandma would inevitably greet me with, “Aya, Hachi, how come you so fat?,” my heart was always light and my spirit always lifted when I stepped foot in the living room. Here were people who had loved me from the moment I was born (even though they told everyone that they wondered where I got that curly Popolo-kind hair from) and continued to love me even though I was somewhat less than the ideal granddaughter (math and science challenged). For me, it was not a complete homecoming until I walked into the kitchen and stuck to the floor.

Since my grandparents passed away, I can count on one hand the number of times I have gone to their home. My aunty who lives there is a cleaning machine and you can now walk in the kitchen without making a “tsk, tsk” suction noise with each step. Everything is organized and there is even plastic and doilies on the furniture. While we still call it “Grandma’s house”, for me, it is not the same. A clean house is simply not Grandma’s house.

So, if you do pop in to see us during those precious three days of December 30 to January 2 and my house is clean, please file a petition for involuntary commitment because it is highly likely that I have lost my mind. Even more so if I am actually dressed in an appropriate t-shirt and not one with a rude saying or curse word (my daughter allowed me to walk within 10 feet of her at Ala Moana last night because I wore a plain, unprinted t-shirt and was, according to her, “dressed properly”. Well, that and I had her Christmas money from her Grandma as well as my husband’s credit cards), if I am surrounded by cats, or if I have not checked my Facebook that day.

Oh well, Akemashite Omedetoo y’all!

2011 New Years blessing. There is only one dog and one guinea pig. This year, we will be dragging three dogs and one guinea pig to get blessed, along with the three kids.

* This article was originally published on Confessions of a Kichigai Mom on December 27, 2011.

© 2011 Jayne Hirata

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