“If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music, or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.” Martin Luther King, Jr.
Today I come to you to speak of brooms. For the first years of our marriage we lived in apartments with wall-to-wall carpet so I didn't use a broom. Even after we bought our first house, I didn't use one often, we weren't often home. Then we had one of those broom vacuums which for some reason I thought was wonderful.
It wasn't until I had babies that I learned to appreciate brooms. They are quiet and as I used them when the babies were sleeping, I discovered them to be soothing too because I would get caught up in the gentle rhythm of the activity of sweeping. Somehow the silences, the musical rhythm, and the pleasure of knowing I was cleaning and that it was worthwhile pleased me.
I've noticed that in the first three Little House Books (I notice it in these because we listen to them ad nauseum around here) Laura often talks of her mother sweeping the floors. In fact, it seems whenever a significant household even occurs it is punctuated my Ma sweeping the floor.
In Little House on the Prairie, the first thing Ma does when the new house is ready to be moved into is she sweeps.
“We’re moving into the house today, and all the chips must be out.”
So they ate quickly, and hurried to carry all the chips out of the house. They ran back and forth as fast as they could, gathering their skirts full of chips and dumping them in a pile near the fire. but there were still chips on the ground inside the house when Ma began to sweep it with her willow-bough broom.
Ma limped, though her sprained ankle was beginning to get well. But she soon swept the earthen floor, and then Mary and Laura began to help her carrying things into the house.
In On the Banks of Plum Creek, an ox sticks his leg through the Ingalls' roof. They thought it was okay - but the next morning the entire roof collapses.
Then they carried out the rock and the earth and the bunches of hay that had fallen. Ma swept and swept again with the willow-twig boom.
That night they slept in their house, under a starry sky. Such a thing had never happened before.
Later in the story, they move into their new house.
They hurried to do the work. And in the lean-to they found a boughten broom! There seemed no end to the wonders in this house.
This broom had a long, straight, perfectly round, smooth handle. The broom part was made of thousands of thin, stiff, greeny-yellow bristles. Ma said they were broom straws. They were cut absolutely straight across the bottom , and they curved at the top into flat, firm shoulders. Stitches of red string held them tight. This broom was nothing like the round, willow-bough brooms that Pa made. It seemed too fine to sweep with. And it glided over the smooth floor like magic.
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Garth Williams illustration for On the Banks of Plum Creek by Laura Ingalls Wilder.