Confronting My Inner Aunt Petunia

August 18, 2016
Petunia as played by Fiona Shaw
I do not like to keep house. While other girls grabbed 4H badges for their sewing and cooking skills, I got Ds in Home Economics. When I realized my husband wasn’t looking for a wife with a Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval, I was overjoyed.  But after 30 years of loathing laundry and hiding the dirty dishes, I’ve developed something worse than a bout of HouseFrau tidiness.  I have a latent streak of Aunt Petunia.
For anyone who’s spent the last 20 years under a rock, Aunt Petunia is a minor villain in the Harry Potter series. She’s an unpleasant woman who devotes a lot of energy to forcing her narrow worldview down everyone’s throat.  She scrubs her house so thoroughly, all sense of “home” is rubbed right out.
In my own defense, I’m not a complete Aunt Petunia. I adore my sister and nephews; I think they’re some of the greatest people ever made.  I believe in tolerance and diversity.  But I’ve joined Petunia’s obsession and quest to keep some surfaces squeaky-clean.
Oh God, is that a scratch?

At one time, oven surfaces heated things and tables held cooler ones. Spills were regrettable, removable things. A clean surface was acceptable. In those days, I attributed Petunia’s cleaning mania to a compulsion for order or fear of wizarding germs. Now, I own glass-topped furniture and I’m beginning to reconsider.

Glass surfaces must be more than clean; to look good, they must shine. Streaks make a glass surface looks mucky. Scorch marks look even worse.  So I spend lots of time and energy these days cleaning and re-cleaning the glass. I deploy an arsenal of products in the task, as well as non-scratching cloth, and a pack of razor blades to scrape away scorch marks. Nevertheless, they never stay clean.  Glass shows every mark and dust particle and I’m starting to lose my patience. I rarely cook because it might leave marks. I wipe down surfaces before bed every night.  Cat paw prints are now grounds for temporary banishment.  In other words, I’m behaving like Aunt Petunia
No one can keep this table clean!

Well, recognizable characters are essential to a good story. That recognition makes the story seem real. And there’s no guarantee we’ll always identify with the hero. Sometimes, we resemble someone else. Seeing ourselves in a character we dislike may tell us what we need
to change. As long as it’s restricted to a cleaning issue, I can accept being a little like Aunt Petunia. All Wizard-nephews and house-elves are welcome in my home.  Just keep their hands off the glass!

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