VERNON COUNTY - Saturday mornings in Hales Corners, Wisconsin, in the rust-colored ranch home where I grew up, were full of anticipation.
I waited while my dad sat, drinking coffee, black and hot, reading the paper from front to back, his glasses resting on the edge of his nose, old stocking cap tilted back on his head. He’d reach for the coffee cup handle without even a glance. When he finished reading, he would fold the paper in such a fashion that you’d never guess it had been touched.
I’d have a bowl of Cheerios or Frosted Flakes, with a mountain of sugar from the sugar bowl forever kept on the round maple kitchen table. In those days, at least in my family’s home, sugar was one of the primary food groups. Even milk wasn’t ready to drink without the help of a squirt or two of Hershey's syrup, or a spoonful of Nestle's Quik.
The dogs would be outside, my mom, brother, and sister still fast asleep. The house would be quiet, except for the radio Dad turned on low to hear Paul Harvey tell "the rest of the story."
I'd still be in my PJs, the kind with the feet built right into them. I was a tiny child, with a big belly, knobby knees, and stick arms. My eyes would follow Dad, waiting.
Dad would soon get busy cleaning, starting in the kitchen. We had a dishwasher, but Dad preferred hand washing. He’d stand in front of the sink dumping Joy dish soap into the hot water and meticulously clean my cereal bowl, his cup, my glass, and any other dishes he could rustle up.
After he wiped the counter and table clean of crumbs, Dad would rinse the cloth and wipe both surfaces again in a predictable half-swirl, leaving behind a wet trail. After sweeping the kitchen floor, he’d always make a sharp fold in a piece of paper and I’d scooch down and hold the paper flush to the dirt pile, like he showed me, while he swept the dog hairs and whatnot onto it.
When Dad started walking to the back hall closet my heart would beat a little faster. Out would come the old Hoover upright vacuum cleaner!
It was all heavy metal except for the dusty worn bag with the zipper that would catch on frayed strings whenever Dad would open it. The long straight handle was attached to a solid dome that covered the motor.
I’d climb aboard and tuck my feet under me in a low-riding cannonball, my arms grasping the sides of the dome. Dad would start the engine—flick the switch—and away we’d go!
Forward, backward, fast, and slow. Short quick sideways strokes to the right, then the left, right and left, again and again.
What a thrill! What an adventure!
The Hoover was my first horse, a bucking bronco.
I was a cowboy herding cattle—an Indian riding bareback.
It was an airplane and I was the pilot.
It was a pumpkin carriage and I was Cinderella.
I was on safari in Africa, trying to protect the big animals.
It was a sailing ship and I was a pirate with one hook arm and a patch over an eye.
It was a flying dinosaur, race car, elephant, toboggan, giant tortoise.
The deep rattling noise from the motor would eventually rouse the rest of the family, grumpy, from their beds.
Dad would automatically go into slow motion. I would hop off the vacuum with my imagination still soaring.
The vacuuming finished, my dad would put the Hoover back in the closet until the following Saturday, when everything would be possible again and my dad was always the hero.