Things left undone in the way of getting things done

Things left undone in the way of getting things done
In Japan, as the year draws to a close and a New Year approaches, people are busy cleaning their houses and offices. Similar to our "spring cleaning" in the U.S., this New Year custom in Japan is symbolic of preparing for a new start – a new beginning.

If only it were that easy.

Back in the '50s, I grew up in a single-car family. While Dad, a traveling salesman, was on the road with our only car, Mom managed the household and handled the needs of four children, ranging in ages from two to nine.

Mom literally ran errands by foot with all of us kids in tow, four at the time: down a few blocks to the grocer's; up one to the five and dime; and down Main to the shoemaker's.

Mom said that sometimes I held up the show. On one such outing when I was four years old, I trailed behind while the others filed out the front door. I stopped, turned back around and saw the space we were about to leave: baskets of clean laundry, a sink full of dishes, and a floor beat down with toys and books. Responding to this disarray, I blurted, "But we have to red up the house?"

Back east, in the sleepy shadows of Pennsylvania's Allegheny Mountains, where I spent half of my childhood, the term "to red up" meant "to clean up."

Just outside the front door, which hung wide open from the flurry of activity through it, Mom waited. Her eyes were fixed on the other three, while she negotiated with me about things left undone.

The seeds of such compulsion, I suspect, were planted early. There was that time, when I was a tyke and overheard a conversation between Mom and Mrs. Curtis at the kitchen table. Mrs. Curtis said emphatically in a defensive pardon, "But, Joanne's floor is so clean you could eat off it."

To that point, I was not paying attention. Their clattering was a warm and familiar backdrop to my toy chest excavation in the next room, where I was searching for something way down deep inside.

The image of Joanne's kitchen floor stopped me. I raised my head and glazed over. Joanne's linoleum was spotless and pure, like a porcelain plate. More so, the power of the word but changed me. I heard:

"But, Joanne's floor is so clean it purifies her."

"But, Joanne's floor is so clean it makes her spotless."

"But, Joanne's floor is so clean, it is her atonement."

Even today, I wrestle with putting things in order. Before stepping out, I red up the house.

A resident of Southeast South Dakota for more than 30 years, Paula Damon is a popular columnist, keynote speaker, and freelance writer. Her column writing has won first-place national and state awards in The Federation of Press Women competitions. For more information, e-mail

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