Globe Syndicate

for release August 30, 2002

Another Way

by Melodie Davis

Everything I Need to Know About Vacuums I Learned From My Mother

My mother has had a love/hate affair with vacuum cleaners that I find amusing. And also instructive.

I wonder how many vacuums she has owned in her life. If you walk into her home right now you can find at least six vacuums. And she is a modest homeowner, usually a woman who is not inclined to keep or hang onto much of anything she doesn't need. She is not a pack rat.

She will staunchly defend her possession of all those vacuums: This one is for cleaning the stairs, this one is for vacuuming the rugs in the garage/shop, this one does the downstairs (she doesn't like to lug vacuums upstairs and down); then she has another portable probably for the car, and a huge old canister type with all the attachments, plus an electric broom. In her defense, she is a professional cleaner, tidying up other people's homes and offices for the last 30-some years, ever since her nest started to empty.

Although she had trained in business college as a secretary right out of high school, after World War II she quit her office job and raised her family. But after we left home and she wanted extra income, part-time cleaning jobs were the easiest work for her to pick up wherever she lived. There is something very comforting and nurturing about a clean house. She is clean and tidy without being a neatnik  - casual piles of newspapers and miscellaneous bottles on the counter are okay. I love going there.

But back to fixing vacuums. She has never been rich, as a farmer's wife, so she has never owned the luxury-line vacuums that cost hundreds of dollars. So she has become a real expert at fixing her odd assortment of cleaners over the years. She picks them up at yard sales, auctions, second hand shops, or discards from people she works for, and then keeps them running frequently by fixing them herself. Recently I realized that is probably the reason I have never hesitated to first try and fix my own vacuums: because of mother's example. I have learned myself that vacuums are often pretty easy to fix, if you get the right belt, and don't mind getting your hands a little dirty. This is pretty amazing for both Mom and me since we are both non-technical types.

I am not a fix-it kind of woman, preferring to haul stuff into a shop or get my husband to do it. But when there is company coming and the vacuum has broken down, there is often not time to wait for husband to "get around to it." Plus, there is something kind of satisfying about doing it yourself.

On a recent visit, Mom showed me her latest find: this upright she had actually picked up free, when a neighbor at the mobile home park where Mom and Dad live in Florida in the winter had put it out on "free pick up day"-a day when all residents put out stuff they don't need or want anymore, and anyone is free to pick up someone else's junk. Anyway, she was so delighted with her free vacuum that the fact that it puffed and burned smoke barely daunted her. She proceeded to put on a new bag and belt, and lubricate it.

But it still smoked and rubbed, somewhere. So I got down with Mom and turned the thing over, and suddenly it was plain to me: the roller had been inserted the wrong way. The right end was at the left end, and viola! We had that old vacuum fixed.

So what can fixing your own vacuum cleaners-or other household items, teach you about life?
1. Sometimes you just gotta get your hands dirty.
2. You can save a lot of money by doing it yourself.
3. Check the basics first: Is it plugged in? Is it turned on? Did you lose a belt? Does the bag need to be changed?
4. It helps to have a second pair of eyes and hands eyeballing the problem.
5. Even the klutziest, non-machine oriented person can sometimes fix something if they put their mind to it.
6. There is great happiness to be had in greeting your husband with "Hey, I fixed the vacuum today" instead of "Can you take a look at the vacuum?"
7. If Mom wasn't willing to fix her own vacuums, I probably wouldn't be either.

How much unintentional modeling we do for our children! That gives me pause when it comes to issues and activities which are ultimately far more important than fixing a rusty vacuum.

Maybe this encouragement will give you energy to finish up whatever odd jobs around the house are still waiting here at the end of summer!

Comments? Send to: Melodie Davis, Another Way c/o Name\Address of YOUR newspaper; or e-mail:

You can also visit Another Way on the Web at

Melodie Davis is the author of seven books and has written her column since 1987. She taught feature writing and has won awards from the National Federation of Press Women, Virginia Press Women and the American Advertising Association. She and her husband have three daughters.

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