from American Girl
Jo Ann Cleans House
by Ellis Parker Butler
It was Easter vacation and as the taxicab came to a stop before Jo Ann's house she threw her arms around Julia Wickham and gave her a big hug.
"Two whole weeks, Wicky!" she cried excitedly. "Will we have fun!" But before they were out of the cab another taxicab drove up and stopped, and out of the house came Jo Ann's father and mother. They carried two suitcases, and when Jo Ann had been kissed and Julia welcomed hastily, Jo Ann's mother explained.
"We've just had a telegram saying that your Aunt Martha fell down the stairs and is badly injured, Jo Ann, and your father and I must hurry to catch the train. We may be gone two or three days -- perhaps a week."
"Oh, Mother, I'm sorry!"
"I know, but we haven't time to spare now for anything. We must catch that train. And, Jo Ann -- "
"I've been cleaning house but haven't reached your room. You might clean it, if you wish. Mary will scrub the floor and the woodwork, and --"
"I'd just love to," Jo Ann said, but her father interrupted her, saying they would miss the train if they did not get started at once, and the taxicab wheeled away. Jo Ann turned to watch it depart and saw a third taxicab. This one stopped before the Bassick home next door and out of it got Tommy Bassick, Jo Ann's next-door tormenter and enemy, and with him was Ted Spence, the redheaded nuisance's chum.
"Don't notice them!" said Jo Ann. "They think they are smart. If we pay any attention to them they'll shout something smarty at us."
She picked up her suitcase and ignored her annoyers. Mary, the maid, opened the door. It was evident she was in the midst of housecleaning, with a mop in her hand and a towel pinned over her hair, and she was in no good humor.
"An' now trouble begins," was her welcome. "As if 'twas not enough, me in the middle of housecleanin' and your ma goin' off right in the midst, and you comin' home on top of it, Miss Jo Ann. I'm hopin' you'll not be up to any of your wild doin's once in awhile."
"Mary, Mary, quite contrary!" Jo Ann laughed. "No, Mary, I'm going to be a sweet little angel this time. Mother says I am to clean my own room, you dear old Mary."
"Saints help us!" Mary exclaimed, as if this were the final cruel blow. "Love knows what'll happen if you start cleanin' house. An' me up to my neck in work! Oh, well! There's no preventin' you if your ma says you may."
"And I'm going to get right at it," said Jo Ann cheerfully. "How soon can you scrub the floor, Mary? We can't do anything until then."
"There it is!" said Mary. In her heart she loved Jo Ann and all her tomboyish ways, but she also loved to pretend that Jo Ann was a great care and source of trouble. "There it is! Upsettin' my work the minute she puts foot in the house. I must drop everything and go scrubbin' your floor and all, and never mind what work I'm doin'. That's the way of it!"
Jo Ann laughed again but she kissed Mary's cheek.
"Go on with you!" said Mary, but she was pleased. "Get your closet and dresser cleaned out," she said in a more normal tone, "and when you're ready, Jo Ann, I'll scrub down the woodwork and the floor for you. Give a shout when you want me."
Within half an hour Jo Ann and Wicky were busy, dumping dresser drawer contents on the bed and sorting the closet contents. The wastebasket filled to overflowing with discarded things, and Jo Ann hurried to the cellar for two baskets. She cleaned house as she did everything else, lickety-split and with all her might.
"I don't want these," she said and threw a pair of old slippers at the basket. They missed it and skidded under the bed, and Wicky retrieved them and dropped them into the basket. "Kid stuff!" Jo Ann said and dumped an armful of old school notebooks on the floor. "Put them in the basket, Wicky."
"Don't you want these stockings?"
"Holes as big as houses in them," said Jo Ann. "Runs as wide as the Mississippi River. Here -- chuck these two hats in the basket. It's time I cleaned house!"
"It's fun to get rid of things you don't want," Wicky said. "I love to. It gives you such a -- well, such a better feeling. Such a cleaned-up feeling."
"Yes, and I wish I could get rid of Latin the same way. Does it give me a headache? Ow! And --"
"And what?" asked Wicky.
"That redheaded Tommy Bassick," said Jo Ann. "I wish I could clean house of him. I wish I could get rid of him as easily as I get rid of a year before last's hat. I'd like to put him into a rubbish basket with all the rest of the junk."
"Well, why don't you?" asked Wicky. "He's just one awful nuisance to you, Jo Ann. You're always quarreling with him. Whenever you're home you spend most of your time trying to get the best of him so that he won't get the best of you. Why don't you dump him in the rubbish basket? Why don't you clean house of him?"
"I can do it," said Jo Ann. "I don't have to have him fluttering around like a last year's calendar. Wicky, I've outgrown that silly kid and his kid tricks. I guess folks have a right to clean house of people they don't want any more! I'm going to houseclean Tommy Bassick right out of my life."
"That's the girl!" Wicky cheered her.
"And I'm going to tell him so," said Jo Ann firmly.
"Do it," said Wicky. "He never does anything but bother you."
It was late in the afternoon when Jo Ann and Wicky arrived, and the job of cleaning they had undertaken was bigger than they had thought. They allowed the baskets of cast-offs to stand that night and the next morning carried them out to the street for the garbage man to take away. They were leaving them at the edge of the walk when Tommy Bassick and Ted Spence came out of the Bassick house.
The two boys also had baskets of cast-offs, and as they set them down Tommy Bassick turned and called to Jo Ann.
"Hey! Jo Ann!" he called. "Wait a minute!"
Jo Ann stood waiting. Her head was jauntily high and resolution shone in her eyes. This was as good a chance to do one part of her housecleaning as she could wish.
"Well?" she asked. "What do you want? Hurry up, because I've got something to say to you, Tommy Bassick."
"I'll say what I've got to say, fast enough," Tom Bassick said. "I've been cleaning house -- Ted and I have been cleaning my room -- and I said what a good thing it was to get rid of useless junk, and what a pity it was that a fellow couldn't throw away a lot of other tiresome and annoying things that he has hung onto since he was a baby --"
"Such as --" Ted Spence interrupted, but a thrill of dismay shot through Jo Ann. She knew just what was coming. She knew how both she and Tommy had come to think of housecleaning each other out of each other's lives. It was an article in a magazine, about getting rid of useless and harmful and tiresome associates, and Tommy must have read it, too. Jo Ann leaped forward and put her hand against Ted Spence's mouth.
"You're out of my life, Tom Bassick," she cried. "I've housecleaned you out of it. You and your smarty kid tricks -- I'm done with you and them, and --"
"No such things!" shouted Tommy. "I said it first. I threw you out of my life first. I told Ted, hours and hours ago --"
"I said it yesterday," screamed Jo Ann, trying to outshout Tommy. "I threw you out yesterday. I did! I did!" And she clapped her hands over her ears and pressed them hard there and, as Tommy went on shouting, she yelled "Blaw! Blaw! Blaw!" to drown his voice so that she might not hear it.
"She did! She did!" Wicky yelled, jumping up and down in her eagerness. "Yesterday! Yesterday afternoon!"
Tommy was still shouting. He reached for Jo Ann, but she turned and ran to a safe distance and, forgetting her dignity entirely, she cried out, "I said it first! I offcast you first! I got rid of you first!"
"She did! She did!" Wicky continued to yell.
"Aw, shucks!" said Ted Spence disgustedly. "Let them yell. They're just a couple of girl babies. What do you care, Tom? You've got rid of her and that's all you want."
Tom Bassick hesitated. He was still half inclined to rush at Jo Ann and try his fortune in one of their old-style wrestles and hair pullings, but he may have thought he might not come out well at that sort of test. He never had won one of their fighting bouts. He turned and walked after Ted Spence, and Jo Ann and Wicky went into the house and closed the door.
"Well, Jo Ann," Wicky said, "you won that time."
"Yes, and I'll win the next time, too," Jo Ann declared.
"I thought this was the last time," said Wicky. "I thought you were through with him forevermore."
"Yes, I am," said Jo Ann. "That's what I mean. I'll never think of him, or speak to him, or see him again. If I ever meet him I'll not even know he's there. I -- I'm not thinking of him now. I'm thinking of --"
"Of housecleaning," said Wicky.
"Yes, and, oh, Wicky! I've the dandiest idea!"
"I'm going to paper my room. I'm going to put new wallpaper on the wall. I'm just sick and tired of the old paper, and it is so dingy and faded. And we've got plenty of time. Mother and Father may not be home for a week. And you know Sue Bencker said she papered her room and that it was no job at all. We can do it as well as Sue Bencker can, I'm sure."
"Well, of course, Sue Bencker lived on a farm, and perhaps she wouldn't be quite as particular as -- well -- your mother would be."
"It's my room," said Jo Ann. "And you don't mean to say I can't do anything Sue Bencker could do, do you?"
"You can do a lot of things she can't do, I know that," Wicky said. She was glad that something was taking Jo Ann's thoughts off of Tommy Bassick, and she supposed Jo Ann could paper a room if she tried. She could do almost anything she tried. "How will you start, Jo Ann?"
"The way to start is to start," said Jo Ann, "and the first thing we need is the new wallpaper. We'll go right down and get it, and Mary can scrub the floor and the woodwork while we're gone."
"Don't you think she had better wait until we get the paper on the wall?" asked Wicky.
"Oh, we won't be mussy," said Jo Ann. "We'll spread old newspapers on the floor. Let me see how much money I've got."
"We'll have to have more than wallpaper," Wicky suggested. "Brushes, you know. And paste."
"This ought to be enough money," Jo Ann said, counting what she had in her purse, and the two girls put on their hats and light coats and prepared to go downtown. When they told Mary what they were going for that good woman threw up her hands.
"Ow, murder!" Mary cried. "What will you be up to next, I wonder? May your mother soon come home or you'll be the death of me!"
"Now, that's nonsense, Mary," said Jo Ann with dignity. "I'm not asking you to paper the room."
"And well it is you're not," said Mary, "for not a hand would I touch to it. Not even an envelope can I stick shut without gettin' glue in my hair and all. I stay far from you whilst any wallpapering goes on, and that you can count on, Miss Jo Ann."
At the shop that sold wallpaper they had a quite different reception. The man there was eager to sell them wallpaper, and he turned over the sample books until he came to a sample that made both girls exclaim with admiration.
"That's the one I want," said Jo Ann, for the design was one of dainty nosegays set at regular distances, a pretty pattern indeed. "How much do you think I ought to have?"
"Now that depends considerably on the size of the room," said the man. "A big room takes more than a small one."
"I know that," said Jo Ann. "My room is about as big as -- well -- from there to there, and from there to there."
"I'd say you'd need about six double rolls," said the man. "Let us say eight double rolls, to be safe, and you can return any double rolls you don't use."
"How much would it be?"
"This paper is twenty cents a roll, and eight double rolls would be sixteen single rolls -- that's three dollars and twenty cents."
"That will be all right. And I need some paste, and a brush."
"We have prepared paste in cans. You'll need two brushes, one to smear the paste with and one to smooth the paper after it is hung. You ought to have a roller, too."
"How much would it all come to?" Jo Ann asked.
"You won't want very expensive brushes," said the salesman. "Four dollars and sixty-five cents."
"And I have some money left," Jo Ann laughed to Wicky. "All of forty cents!"
"I could have lent you a dollar," Wicky said. "That's all I've got."
The man volunteered to deliver the goods at the house, and when Jo Ann and Wicky reached home the parcel was already awaiting them. Jo Ann was so eager to get at the job that she could hardly wait for them to get into smocks. She opened the can of paste.
"The brush won't go into this can," she said. "I'll get a pan from Mary," and she did, although Mary complained about lending one of her spotless pans. Wicky had the pictures down from the wall, and the bed and other furniture pushed into the middle of the room when Jo Ann returned, and Jo Ann emptied the whole can of paste into the pan and picked up one of the brushes.
"Now, how much of the wall do you think we ought to put paste on at a time?" she asked.
"I don't believe they put the paste on the wall," Wicky said. "I seem to remember that they put it on the back of the wallpaper. And we ought to peel off the old paper first, at least the loose parts."
"I suppose so," said Jo Ann.
"And we ought to have a table to lay the wallpaper on while we put the paste on it," said Wicky. "I suppose a card table would do."
"But there isn't room in the room for a card table," Jo Ann objected. "We might have a card table out in the hall." "Yes, we can do that. And we'll need something to stand on."
"We have a step ladder. I'll get it. You come and get the table, Wicky." She stopped to unroll a roll of the wallpaper. "I do think this is the suavest pattern! Why, look here, Wicky -- there's an edge on it that has to be cut off! You take the scissors and do that while I get the table and the ladder. I wonder where Mother's scissors are?"
"There's an awful lot to cut off," said Wicky. "Miles and miles of it at least, I should think."
"Well, we'll do a roll at a time," Jo Ann said, and went to find scissors. The only scissors she could find were her mother's embroidery scissors which snipped about an inch at a time, but Wicky seated herself on the edge of the bed and began. Jo Ann bent to see how the scissors worked, and stepped back.
"Ooh! Paugh!" she exclaimed, for she had stepped into the pan of paste. The slimy, sticky stuff went above her shoe to her ankle, and in stepping out she overturned the pan. The paste slid into a big wet paste pie on the floor, and Jo Ann began scooping it into the pan with both hands. "Quick, Wicky! Help me!" she ordered.
They found towels and rags and rubbed the floor as clean as they could -- fortunately Mary had not scrubbed it -- and they washed their hands and Jo Ann made two trips for the ladder and the table. It seemed, when she returned, as if Wicky had done almost no wallpaper trimming.
"My goodness!" said Jo Ann. "We'll never get enough trimmed if you can't trim faster, Wicky. It will take us weeks and weeks. You peel the old paper off the wall and I'll go borrow a pair of shears."
Wicky dropped the inefficient embroidery scissors and turned to the wall.
"This paper was not trimmed," she said. "It is lapped over."
"Of course, silly! But only one side. One side has to be trimmed. Oh, look out!"
For Wicky had almost stepped into the paste. She pushed it under the bed, and in fifteen or twenty minutes Jo Ann returned with a fine large pair of shears. Wicky had peeled large irregular jags of the old paper from the wall, and now Jo Ann trimmed wallpaper while Wicky sat and watched.
"There!" said Jo Ann. "We'll hang this much first," and she carried the roll to the hall and laid it on the table. "I'm afraid this is going to be a little hard," she said when she had unrolled a stretch of the wallpaper. "We need a longer table. Get the paste, Wicky. Pshaw!" she exclaimed when she had applied a liberal supply of paste to the back of the wallpaper. "We should have measured off a piece first."
"That ought to be enough for one strip," Jo Ann went on, and she cut off that much, and the length immediately slid off the table. It caught for a moment on the metal corner of the card table, and a long gash ripped in the wet wallpaper. "Never mind," said Jo Ann. "It will paste shut on the wall. But when they tried to carry the long strip to the bedroom the wet corners pulled off in Wicky's hands.
"I'm so sorry!" Wicky said, but Jo Ann said it was no matter, some would have to be cut off at the bottom anyway.
They had forgotten to put the ladder near the wall, and when they reached the wall they had to put the moist and pasty paper down somewhere, and they laid it, paste up, on the bed while they arranged the ladder. Jo Ann took the undamaged corners, climbed the ladder and put her end carefully against the strip of molding.
"It's upside down," said Wicky. "The bouquets are all wrong side up, Jo Ann."
"Drat!" said Jo Ann. "Of course. We turned it around. We'll take a new piece."
But they had the same trouble with the new piece -- or equally annoying trouble. This time the wallpaper mysteriously flapped its pasted side against Jo Ann's face and shoulder and smock, and tore when Wicky tried to straighten it. The next piece they got on the wall, but when Jo Ann tried to smooth it with the dry brush it lay with lumps and wrinkles, askew and crooked.
Paste now seemed to be everywhere. It was on the bed and on the floor, and a great deal of it was on Jo Ann and Wicky. There was paste on top of the card table so that the wallpaper stuck there, and there was paste on the hall floor where it had dribbled from the brush. But still the girls kept bravely on. Late in the afternoon they had two strips on the wall. The first was straight enough, but the second was not quite straight and besides, the little nosegays were not in line with the little nosegays in the first piece.
"It's just terrible, if you ask me," said Jo Ann, and she sat on the bed. "Do you see what's the matter with it?"
"Well, that tear in the middle of it shows," said Wicky.
"I don't mean that. We haven't cut it right. That first strip is cut right through the flowers at the top, and the second strip is cut between the bunches. See -- here!"
Jo Ann jumped up to show Wicky, and the bed sheet came with her. She was pasted to it. She pulled the sheet loose petulantly.
"That second strip has to come off," she declared. "And we can't use it again. It will be too short if we cut any off it. Wicky, we'll never get this room papered, never!"
"No," said Wicky. "I know that now."
"And look at the room -- look at the walls -- it looks awful. It looks terrible."
"I know," said Wicky.
"Wicky," said Jo Ann, but Wicky did not say anything. She knew -- or was pretty sure she knew -- what Jo Ann was thinking. Tommy Bassick had boasted how he had papered his room. Mrs. Bassick had bragged that Tommy had papered his room as neatly as a paperhanger could have done. Wicky knew what Jo Ann was thinking.
"Wicky," Jo Ann said, "I'll never, never, never ask Tommy Bassick to do me a favor."
"No," agreed Wicky. "I know you wouldn't, Jo Ann. But I don't believe we'll ever get this room papered."
"I told him I had housecleaned him out of my life, and I meant it."
"Of course you meant it," said Wicky.
"But this room does look simply frightful," said Jo Ann. "We can't leave it like this."
"I shouldn't think we could."
"Mary has some doughnuts, and she could make some sandwiches and cocoa."
"I could go over and ask Tommy and Ted to come over and help me paper the room," said Wicky. "I don't mind going over and asking them."
For a moment or two Jo Ann looked at Wicky and then she grinned.
"You don't have to go over," said Jo Ann. "You can telephone."
So, two minutes later, down the terrace and across the yard came Tommy Bassick and Ted Spence, laughing and tagging each other, and Jo Ann met them at the door.
"Hello, Jo Ann!" Tommy greeted his old enemy. "Show us that wallpaper."
"It's up here," said Jo Ann, "and thanks for coming."
Because, after all, when you clean house you sometimes move things out, expecting to keep them out, but find they are needed after all. Then it is no use being too stupid and stubborn about it, is it?