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Wednesday, July 17, 2024

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A Squeaky Clean Christmas

By Eva Feeley, Sea Isle City

During the early 1950s, my mom, dad, little brother and I lived in an apartment on the third floor of my grandparents’ home in South Philadelphia.

A week or so after Thanksgiving, my mother and grandmother would wake up early, put on their oldest house dresses, tie scarves around their heads gypsy style and begin phase one of Christmas preparations – the cleaning of the house. Not a single decoration would be unwrapped and displayed until 1119 Ellsworth Street sparkled inside and out.

Drapes were taken down, washed in the kitchen sink and dried on the clothesline in the tiny cement backyard. Windows and the glass on the ornate front and vestibule doors were cleaned with newspaper and white vinegar, the Persian rugs on the parlor and dining room floors were pulled up and beaten as they hung over the stone wall between our yard and the neighbor’s behind us. Baseboards and bannisters were wiped down with an eye-watering ammonia solution and finally the white marble outdoor steps were scrubbed with hot soapy water.

By late afternoon, the weary women collapsed onto kitchen chairs and fortified themselves with coffee and cake. The actual decorating would wait for another day but excitement was already in the air.

The annual ritual had begun again and the memories I keep of watching it unfold each year are some of the earliest of my childhood and certainly some of the most precious.

Feeley writes from Sea Isle City.

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