Notes from a Jersey Girl

by Lisa G Westheimer

It’s Curtains for Me!

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Since my last post dealt mainly with the Italian side of my family, allow me to write about my father’s side, my Polish peeps. My father’s mother, Anna, had 10 brothers and sisters. Her parents came to America from Zakopane, Poland when they were about 18. They settled in the coal mining region of Pennsylvania, along with many of their fellow Polish compatriots. Grandma was born in 1907 and her birth certificate said she was born in Crabtree, PA. She was the 2nd oldest, her elder sister being Mary, the uber Ciocia (more on that later.) When Grandma was maybe a preteen the entire family resettled in Garfield, Bergen County, NJ.

Grandma was made of very strong stuff and died at the age of 105 in 2012. She outlived my father by 11 years. By Polish standards he died a mere pup at 72. I will write a lot more about Grandma, her sisters, her mother Babcia and if they are not careful my cousins, in later posts as they are part of who I am just as much as my Italian predecessors, but I’m thinking of Grandma, her mother and her sisters today because I’m washing the God damn curtains. (ooo I swore.)

Grandma, Babcia (the uber duber Cioci) and Grandma’s sisters were Cioci’s. Ciocia is aunt in Polish. Cioci’s are a breed in and of themselves. Cioci’s are not born they are made. A Cioci is a woman who can run a country singlehanded from her kitchen. Nothing is too hard to do for a Cioci. Cioci’s clean like white tornados. They cook up storms, cleaning up as they go. They grew the food they cooked from seeds harvested from the previous year long before the pork pie hat set in Brooklyn got the idea. They know to put the coffee on and take the cake out just after putting dinner on the table. They don’t wash floors with mops, they scrub them on their hands and knees. Every week. BTW Martha Stewart is a Polish American girl from Nutley, NJ. Get the picture?

I have been told I am a Cioci, especially when I am driving someone crazy as they get caught in the eye of a cleaning frenzy. Like any full blooded self respecting Cioci I dust before I vacuum. I use white vinegar for almost any cleaning project and to make quick pickles. I clean with Everclear and I made liquor with it.   But since Italian blood cells are mingled with the Polish ones coursing through my veins I draw the line at certain things. I have a cleaning lady (a crew actually) that come and do the heavy lifting. I am a big fan of sponge mops over scrub brushes. I use a swiffer.

I did not make all the curtains in my house, only the crooked ones. I change my curtains twice a year and clean them. Only the velvet winter ones get dry cleaned. The ones in the dining room were made by the previous owner (not Polish!) and are so big they can cover a football field. They are never getting cleaned. They have those awful hooks from the 1970’s holding them up and are about 10 feet tall and I just can’t bear it. They will still be hanging there in the house long after I’m dead.

The rest get washed in Woolite in cold water set on delicate, hung up to dry then ironed by me.   This sorry turn of events happens when the screens go in and they come out of the windows. We have a lot of windows, about 40 in the house alone (the studio windows only get washed once a year by the Italian side of me.) Thankfully many windows do not have curtains. I may be crazy but I’m not stupid.

Guess what, it’s that time of year. The screens need to go in. I need to take down, wash and iron the curtains and do the change over from fall/winter to spring/summer. Jesus wept. So once a week I do a bunch of them. I hang them up on a clothes line I have strung in my sewing room (yes I have a sewing room.) I iron them while listening to audio books, Car Talk reruns or Wait Wait Don’t Tell me on NPR.  I should be done by fall.

To those of you mortals this all seems like a lot, maybe even too much, going above and beyond the call of duty. But we had a cleaning lady change over this year and the new crew does windows (oh thank you Jesus, praise the Lord because the last one didn’t and I had to) but not curtains and I’m way too cheap to send them all out to the dry cleaner. But I have to confess. It’s weighing on my soul. I am cleaning the curtains BEFORE the windows are washed and screens go in. This is a serious Cioci infraction. Going out of order is not permitted. But this Cioci has a million and one things to do piling up in her studio with deadlines looming, videos about to launch (go to my other blog to read all about that) and a vacation to go on in 10 days, so sue me.

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Author: Lisa G Westheimer

I am a ceramic and glass artist living and working in West Orange, NJ, USA. I have a masters degree in ceramics from Montclair State University and teach at the Montclair Art Museum, both in Montclair, NJ. Prior to this I was co-owner of "The Manhattan Expedition Inc" and was a NYC Building Code and Zoning Specialist in Manhattan, my main claim to fame as a Loft Conversion Specialist in Soho and Tribeca in the 1980's and 1990's, and a specialist in Landmarks Preservation and Special Places of Assembly, particularly the Fashion Shows in Bryant Park and any weird sort of thing happening in Manhattan worthy of getting thrown out of the Commissioner's office. But mostly I'm a Jersey Girl, born in Rutherford, schooled in a private school in Montclair, did a stint living in Greenwich Village then Soho before fleeing to Llewellyn Park in West Orange, NJ where I learned how to clean and restore stuffed bald eagles!!!! I can mostly be found in my studio or on the campus of The Montclair Art Museum (where I teach) or on the back of my horse Buddy, either in my backyard or at a farm in Sussex County.

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