Monday, October 24, 2011

Rose, The Cleaning Lady

Note: This is one of my favorite blogs, it was a memory buried from my very early childhood.

Before I get into my memories about Rose, there was some discussion yesterday on my Facebook page regarding yesterday’s blog.  I made a statement that the show Russian Dolls “taught” me that Russians were: materialistic, rude, obnoxious, self-centered etc based on what I saw on the 12 episodes and the writer’s own words stating that the show was designed to show us real Russians and their culture.  Maybe “taught” wasn’t the best choice of words.  However, that is how they were consistently portrayed and I have been following some of the cast on twitter and facebook as well, where they continue the exhibit the same negative attributes I described.  That does not mean that I believe all Russians are that way, nor should anyone, based on a reality television show that has an agenda.  But these cast members and the writers would have viewers believe these behaviors are typical of Russians.  Why Russian writers would want to expose us to all the negative, stereotypical aspects of their ethnic group baffles me.  I have, however, had the pleasure to converse with many readers of my blog, who are Russian or of Russian decent, and they are not only very interesting, but have contributed greatly to the discussion of what we see on the show and how inaccurate the portrayals are. I have, in fact, learned a lot from many of them.  

Back to Rose.  All of the discussion caused me to wonder why, living in New York City, the largest city in the world, I cannot think of anyone I know who is Russian or of Russian decent.  It bothered me that all I knew about Russians came from a ridiculous show and the comments from readers (virtually 90% enjoyed and agreed with my blogs, which weren’t always so kind).  I kept thinking, I must have known someone in my lifetime who was Russian.  And then I remembered Rose, the cleaning lady.

My grandmother had purchased a six family house in 1920’s in Brooklyn.  She wanted a place to raise her seven children.  When my grandmother died in 1957, she left the house to the three youngest children who helped her pay off the mortgage and renovate the house.  My mother was one on those three children.  She “managed” the property by paying the bills, collecting the rent, and taking care of repairs.  She hired Rose to clean the hall once a week, every Tuesday morning.  Rose was Russian.  She was a big woman, heavyset. She wore a scarf over her head and a coat.  Rose always worked very hard without saying a word.  She had a set routine, I still remember it today.

I used to watch Rose do her job because I wasn’t in school yet.  People fascinated me, even at a very early age.  And although I paid very close attention to Rose, without getting in her way, she never said a word to me, nor I to her.  The six family house was three stories and with six families going in and out, there was a lot of work involved in cleaning it.  When she arrived she took off her scarf and coat and left them on my mother’s kitchen chair.  Then she would start working.  First she would take out all her cleaning supplies. Then she would roll up the carpet runners on each floor and take them outside to clean.  While they were airing, she would mop every floor and washed the steps on her hands and knees.  She polished the wood banister and paneling.  She polished the brass doorknobs and mailbox.  By then the floors had dried, and she brought all the carpet runners back inside and laid them down.  She did this all in half a day. The hall was always spotless when she finished. When she was done she would knock on my mother’s door.  She would put on her scarf and coat, that he laid on the chair that morning.  Her money was right there on the kitchen table.  My mother always had her money ready, plus a few extra dollars and thanked for coming and said see you next week.  She didn’t get paid much, maybe $15, if my memory serves me right.  And then Rose would leave for her next job.

There was never any conversation between my mother and Rose either, none that I can recall. Except for one time and even now, as I think about it, my eyes are filling with tears.  One day, when Rose was all finished with her work and came to collect her money, she started talking to my mother.  I never knew anything about Rose or her life, but now she was talking about her daughter and showing my mother her picture.  I could see how proud and happy she was as she told my mother about her daughter graduating college. She was practically bursting from joy.  This woman, who I had watched clean our hall week in and week out, for years, had a daughter that she put through college with money she had earned working on her hands and knees.  Her hands often red from the harsh detergent.  And now she was able to see the fruits of her labor.  She was an immigrant and her daughter had graduated college.  My mother was so happy for her and they chatted a while about Rose’s happy news before she had to leave for her next job.  It was touching to see, and even at my young age, and I did have some understanding and appreciation of the sacrifices she made as a mother, for the sake of her daughter.  Her daughter would have a better life and never have to clean anything on her hands and knees for anyone.  

Rose is the only Russian I have ever really known.  A very hard working immigrant, who came to this country so her daughter would have a better life and an education.  No job was beneath her and no sacrifice too big, for her as a mother.  And you know, when Rose’s daughter got a job, Rose was able to retire as a cleaning woman.  One day she came by and she was dressed differently.  She wasn’t wearing her usual cleaning clothes, but a nice outfit.  She came to see my mother and to thank her for using her services.  Then she explained how she wasn’t going to be cleaning any more.  They gave each other a hug and Rose went on her way.  I never saw her again, but she left an everlasting memory in my heart.

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