I don't like cleaning. I like things to be clean, but I am not fond of the process involved in getting them that way. So I think that it is rather ironic that my first three jobs should be cleaning the houses of elderly people.

My first job was working for the Gardners. It was a rather daunting task, when I took into consideration that Ruth Gardner had gone through several other cleaners before she got to me. She was very particular. Not mean. Just particular. I threw myself fervently into that job, just knowing that I would die of embarrassment if I didn't pass muster. Her house was full of lovely, priceless antiques. It was very hard to dust everything, and she always saw the places that I missed. She would tell me next week, "be sure to dust the headboards of our beds. They are really dirty." I would ashamedly wish that the floor would open and engulf me.

Sometimes, Ruth would tell me the history of the things that I dusted. I usually enjoyed this, but there were several times that it made me terribly nervous. Once, I was dusting a pair of black vases. "Be very careful of those." She told me, "they came from Italy, and we could never find a replacement of they were broken." My hands shook as I set the one I had been dusting down with reverent care.

Ruth's husband, Ed, was a very amiable man, but he didn't like to leave his chair. He had a corner of the living room where he encamped with trash can, magazines, letter openers, and a myriad other things close at hand. I would listen with amusement as he and and Ruth would have their weekly disagreement.

"Ed, you have to move." Ruth would begin.

"Why, honey?" Ed always asked.

"Because the cleaner's got to get around your chair."

"Why, she can clean with me sitting here."

"No, she can't. Just look at all that dirt."

Sometimes Ruth would win out, and Ed would go sit in the bedroom. Sometimes Ed remained in the chair, and elevated his footrest so I could vacuum beneath it. The thing that impressed me was that neither tried to rub their point in, or carry the argument any further. Personally, I was always a little glad when Ed stayed put. It saved me about five minutes of dusting all the little gadgets that surrounded him.

When Ruth was in a talkative mood, she would tell stories. She grew up just a few miles from my house, and lives in the same house she was born in. She could talk about the great-grandparents of all our neighbors. Sometimes, Ed would tell about his service with the Merchant Marines. All of the time I spent cleaning was made very worthwhile when I heard those stories.

But all things must change. One day, Ruth found out that she could get free housecleaning from the V.A., and that was the end of my first job.

My next employer was a friend of Ruth's, Ada Groppe. I have decided that I want to be like Miss Ada when I grow old. I do not now remember how old she was, but she was in her nineties. She lived by herself in a big white-and-green farmhouse. All except for her two cats. She loved her cats, she loved life, she loved children, and people in general, she loved God. She was very happy. Because Miss Ada wanted to keep doing as much as she could by herself, she hardly let me clean anything. But I was always there for rather a long time. She talked and talked, and I liked to listen. I would curl up in a worn armchair, ornamented with festoons of cat hair, and listen to her. Sometimes she would tell of the old days, when she was a young girl, and sometimes her talk turned to more recent times, when she would tell about how she had helped with VBS that summer. "They probably don't want us old folks around." She would say, "but I just love those kids!" Somehow, that old lady managed to keep up with everything that was happening in her area. She would tell me how many tomatoes her neighbor across the cornfield had gotten, or how the man across the road was in the hospital with a broken leg. I really loved Miss Ada, and would have kept working for her, even if she hadn't payed me a dime, but at long last her age really caught up with her. She had a frightening fall, and decided that she shouldn't be living alone anymore. She moved into a nursing home, and one of her daughters took the cats. Every so often, I drive past that green-and-white farmhouse, and see its loneliness and think of Miss Ada.

The only person I'm still working for is Mr. Jaeger, a widower. He has a bad memory, and since I clean his house only once a month, he always asks me the same questions. He asks me what my political views are before discussing the President's latest mis-demeanors and concluding that this country's going downhill fast. "I feel sorry for you young people." He says, "you're the ones who have to deal with all this mess." Then he asks me what grade I'm in, and wants to know all about homeschooling. Now, since he's found out about Camp David, he's always trying to remember exactly what that is, and what I do there. "Those kids." He sighs, "with their parents in the slammer, they have hardly got a chance."

What amuses me about his house are the decorations. He puts up a few seasonal decorations for Easter, Christmas, 4th of July and Thanksgiving, but never takes them down. 'Well,' I reflected as I dusted the Santas atop the curio cabinet today, 'soon it will be time to have these up again, anyway.'

Mr. Jaeger is very generous. He gave me a double paycheck at Christmas, and pretty much lets me pick when it's most convenient for me to work. So, when all's said and done, I think that I've had, and still have, some pretty good jobs. I may not like to clean, but for generosity, interesting personalities, and good stories, the people I have worked, and am working, for can't be beat.