I opened my eyes and heard something strange outside my bedroom window.
There was this scratch, scratch, scratching sound.
It was really early in the morning . . . the sun was just coming up in the east.
I crawled out of my bunk bed and saw all the little sisters were still sound asleep. I had to lean over the crib, which held one of the young ones, to pull back the Holly Hobbie curtains to see where that scratching sound was coming from.
And there, in the bluish-yellowish hues of dawn, I saw my mother crouched down along the base of our trailer house. She had a kitchen scratcher in one hand, a butter knife in the other. I watched as she scratched the old, peeling paint off the corrugated tin that wrapped around the bottom of the house and reached down to the ground.
In my summer nightie, my barefooted self decided to explore further.
“What are you doing?” I softly asked, so as to not startle her.
“Oh, you are awake early,” she said, still scratching away. “I wanted to repaint the tin before the flowers got too big. Yep, it’s time to polish the turd.”
Yes, you read right, it was time to polish the turd.
That’s what my mother always said when she took on a task to embellish her modest little house and yard.
“It doesn’t matter what kind of house you have, or what kind of things you have, it’s about the pride you take in the polish,” she would say.
She handed me a scratcher and smiled.
“Want to help?” she asked. “We can get a lot done before it gets too hot out and the kids wake up.”
Of course I wanted to help.
It was all about the pride in the polish.
She planted so many flowers and rosebushes and crabapple trees and cottonwoods in that yard, it was nearly impossible to see what kind of house we lived in at all . . . or if she even painted that tin base.
“But I know it’s painted,” she said, gazing at her handiwork. “It’s all about the polish.”
Cheri Mueller could take nothing and make something out of it.
Yellow flour sacks became oddly beautiful curtains in our little kitchen. She made them herself, complete with tie-backs on which she embroidered and painted brightly colored flowers . . . daisies, if I remember correctly.
She liked to patchwork scraps of material to make table runners for our well-worn dining area . . . which only came out on card nights or if her mother was going to visit.
She hung an old wooden sign on the wall, right by the front door, that said, “God Bless This Mobile Home.” Mom certainly meant every word on that sign and I think that house was most certainly blessed. That’s why I still have that sign, now in my house.
It didn’t matter if the evergreen we cut down for a Christmas tree was a little straggly. Mom would magically exclaim it was time to “polish the turd,” and we’d string popcorn and cranberries until it looked like something to be proud of.
Rag rugs were the big thing back in those days, which was good, because we had plenty of rags and dirty feet running across the yellow and green linoleum.
If a window screen was torn, she’d just tape it together and then hang a plant in a macramé swinging holder in front of it.
“It’s all about the polish,” she’d say, laughing, “and I guess sometimes hiding your sins.”
She liked it when all the clothes lines were full, “because it gave the back yard a pop of color” and she enjoyed putting seasonal decorations on the mailbox, “because the mailman deserves to see a little something, his job has got to be so boring.”
My mom liked to display her book collection in the living room, on special-built shelves, because it showed she “might know about more than just raising calves and kids” and that she had a bit of a polish too.
Jars of canned tomatoes and peaches were often left stacked on the kitchen counter for a period of time, before they were taken to the cellar, because they were colorful and it showed her pride in a job well done.
Fuzzy blue hand towels were kept in a little closet next to the furnace in the back hallway. She received them as a shower gift when she married my dad a number of years earlier . . . and they were always proudly displayed if someone special was to arrive.
She really was right. Life’s not about what you have, but making the most of what you have.
Now Mom noted that while the Bible says it’s not good to be prideful, there’s nothing wrong with feeling good about little things that enhance whatever setting in life you are dealing with.
And the best decoration on that farm, the one she enjoyed the most? It was completely free of cost.
It was the sunset. She had a special place on the front step from which to watch the colors.
And if a sunset was especially good, she’d sigh and say, “Now that’s got some polish. God should be proud.”