An article I wrote for SBS on Mum’s carpet.
Mum sent me a link to an article entitled, ‘The science is in: wearing shoes inside your home is just plain gross.’
There you have it, Mum wrote. Vindication.
For as long as I can remember, the love of Mum’s life has been her carpet – 434 square metres of a wool/nylon blend shag pile in ‘frosty taupe’.
The romance began in 1973, when Dad was sporting chocolate brown flares and Mum’s hair was perm-curly with a centre part. They were newlyweds and had just moved into a three-bedroom house in the suburbs.
As a wedding gift, Mum’s parents gave them carpet. From the moment it was unfurled, Mum’s life had purpose: to keep that carpet pristine.
This was a tricky proposition, what with a keen gardener for a husband and children on the horizon, but Mother is not one to be deterred by trickiness. Leaving nothing to chance, she devised a carpet care plan.
Rule number one was no shoes inside the house. This was typical in Asian households, although perhaps not as common in most seventies Australian homes. When one of my parents’ mutual friends suggested they throw a house-warming party, Mum put her foot down – gently, of course, so as not to inflict unnecessary wear and tear – no party on the new carpet.
The arrival of my brother and myself upped the ante – children aren’t the tidiest of creatures and mashed pumpkin is a richly coloured food. Mother had thought of that in her risk analysis and, each mealtime, her generous-in-radius plastic mats were placed under our highchairs.
Growing up we knew the drill. Shoes came off at the back door step, which was a perilous rubble of thongs, runners, gumboots, school shoes and loafers. Looking at the mound, I could see the logic. Our school shoes were caked in mud, our tennis shoes were stained pink from clay courts, and it was the eighties, so there was a high chance that a pre-chewed wodge of Hubba Bubba gum was stuck to the sole of your high tops.
Oh, but the hassle of it all when you’d laced up your stiff Doc Marten boots and had to run back in to get your lunchbox. What to do? Burst in fully shod and risk Mother’s wrath? Or master the art of walking on your knees? I chose the latter and became skilled at getting on my knees, holding an ankle in each hand and trotting along on my kneecaps across the carpet. Permanent damage to my patellas was a small price to pay to preserve Mum’s frosty taupe treasure.
Our immediate family knew the rules, but outsiders, such as tradespeople, always posed a threat. A shoeless tradie was an occupational health and safety issue and so, prior to their arrival, every inch of the home would be covered in a collection of floral bed sheets and tablecloths from the last three decades.
Visiting guinea pigs were also problematic. A friend brought hers over and, before I could shout “Not on the shag pile!”, Bindi was on the loose. Her bowel movements were frequent and I scurried after her with tongs and a plastic bag. Luckily, her hay diet produced droppings that were dry, firm and carpet friendly.
The biggest test came on the night we had people over for dinner. It was a big deal for us – my parents dusted off the wine glasses and brought out the ash tray. Mum cooked up a banquet and everyone was having a gay old time (in their socks) when the unthinkable happened. A wayward elbow, and over went 329 millilitres of Shiraz.
Mum, who was in the kitchen, entered the dining room with her beef curry and, seeing the red puddle assumed that the culprit was my brother.
“WHO did that?” she thundered, glaring at my brother.
A grim silence fell over the dinner party and everyone looked down at their rice bowls.
Then Dad, via some frantic eyeball work, silently indicated to Mum that it wasn’t her son who was to blame. It was one of our guests. And not just any guest – it was our beloved family doctor, who had shepherded our family through viruses, sprained ankles and even the removal of a giant wart from my left hand.
Realising her error, Mum backpedalled and tried to smooth over the situation. Dabbing at the stain and flinging around the baking soda, she laughed and tried to make light-hearted conversation. But the night never recovered. The awkwardness may have been amplified by Mum’s prolonged disappearance between main and dessert as she went off to study whether the addition of tetraacetylethlenediamine to hydrogen peroxide would be a more effective stain remover.
Decades have passed since that night, as has some of the trauma. For time heals all wounds and some stains. Mum has a new GP, I have two children of my own and Bindi is in a better place.
But some things are constant.
“Hey, shall we bring some Play-Doh to Por Por’s [Grandma’s] house?” I ask my 5-year-old.
“No” she replies sagely. “What about her carpet?”.