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Vacuuming sure isn’t what it used to be

Technology amazes me. What it’s accomplished in my lifetime is simply fascinating. We have the world at our fingertips, in a tiny little smart-gadget that brings us more than a computer that occupied an entire 40-degree room used to do.

Carole Townsend

My dad’s job was to work on those things, and sometimes he’d take one of us kids along with him when he got a call in the wee hours. The computers he’d work on had reel-to-reel tapes, lumbering hardware and yes, they had to be housed in chilly rooms. It was a  great job for a menopausal woman to have but alas, those computers have gone the way of the Edsel and the folded map. 

Strange as it sounds, technology has made the chore of vacuuming almost fun today, with those sleek, hot-pink, skinny models on store shelves. I remember my mother’s Electrolux vacuum cleaner from the 60s and 70s. They were built to last, yes, but heavens! Vacuuming was indeed a chore back then. Remember lugging that 80-lb. thing behind you as you sucked up dirt from the sculptured shag, avocado green carpet? My mother prized her Electrolux vacuum cleaner almost as much as she prized her kids. We had to pass a user’s test just to be able to handle it. We had to sign it out, and if we had had possession of our Social Security cards, I have no doubt she would have required a copy of them before we could touch it. 

I think back to that big old monster and I have to wonder, did Mom pull a Mark Twain on us? Did she make that vacuum cleaner seem so priceless just so we’d almost want to use it around the house? No matter. Mom is gone, and so is that whopping dirt sucker that ruled our household back in Doraville so many years ago.

I must admit; a couple of years ago, we bought one of those skinny purple vacuums that carry a shameful $500 price tag. We bought it when we had wood floors installed in our home a couple of years ago. Funny what excites you as the decades roll by, isn’t it? I was so thrilled to bring that thing home and start vacuuming everything – kitchen floors, stairs, wood floors. I even gave it a try on our dogs. Some of them shed a lot.

I’ll tell you something, and this is the honest-to-goodness truth. The sucking power of one of those things is astounding. I experiment with it when no one’s around, just to test its limits. Do you know that I saw a fly in our kitchen this past weekend, while I was vacuuming clear across the room? I can’t stand a fly, especially in the kitchen. When I saw that thing, flitting from grapes to cherries to tabletop, rubbing its little hands together to see what it could contaminate next, I simply held up my skinny stick vacuum, and do you know what? It sucked up that fly from across the room. I was thrilled, fascinated. I’m still looking for flies to introduce to their Maker three days later.

Who could’ve foreseen such handheld power 30 or 40 years ago? Certainly not Mom, I’ll tell you that. She wouldn’t know what to think if she saw my snazzy, shiny, purple vacuum cleaner. But with advanced technology comes a measure of responsibility. I’ve had one mishap with this thing, and it was awful. Really awful. I’ll tell you what I mean, and I have never shared this story with anyone.

Last Christmas, I thought I’d save a cleaning step or two, only because my skinny vac has a handy little attachment that allows me to suck up dust and dirt in tight spaces. Well, I had my precious crystal nativity scene set up on a table in our family room. I display it every year; Christmas decorating just wouldn’t be the same without it. In years past, I had always picked up every piece and dusted beneath the figurines, then placed them carefully back where they belonged. It’s a lot of work, especially for a woman who doesn’t care for housework.

I got the idea to use the skinny attachment on my skinny vac to suck up dust around the characters – Joseph, Mary, the wise men and animals and of course, Baby Jesus. I was doing a good job, too, until my daughter asked me a question, and I turned to answer her. No sooner had I turned my head than I heard a loud clinking and rattling racket, and my precious skinny vac shook and trembled as if it would explode. I turned back around and lo and behold, I had sucked up Baby Jesus and an innocent camel, lickety-split. I was mortified. My daughter was mortified; she remembers the incident to this day. I swore her to secrecy, which no doubt added to the trauma.

Now, I am not handy around the house. My husband refills the salt and pepper shakers because it’s easier than cleaning up the mess I make. He has a lot of tools, and they are kept somewhere out in the guy-zone, our garage. There’s a lot of mysterious stuff out there, but all I know is that there is not a car in our garage, so I stay out of it. This time, however, I had to find the tool, the right tool, to rescue Baby Jesus and the camel. I felt – ashamed? Yes, I felt ashamed, and I felt both an urgency and a responsibility to rescue them both.

Well long story short, I did it. I found a screwdriver and a sharp pointy thing, and I disassembled enough of my precious skinny vac to fish out both figurines. They looked so pitiful, so wrong, all covered with dog hair and gray dust. I carefully washed them both and replaced them with their companions there in the family room. Neither my daughter nor myself has ever spoken of the incident since but suffice it to say, this year I will pick up every nativity figurine and dust underneath. I will never vacuum around Joseph and Mary again, ever.

Yes, technology brings with it great responsibility indeed.

Carole Townsend is a Gwinnett author and freelance writer. Her fourth book, BLOOD IN THE SOIL, was published April 2016. It is the true tale of a crime that took place in Gwinnett County nearly 40 years ago. Her other three books are MAGNOLIAS, SWEET TEA & EXHAUST; RED LIPSTICK & CLEAN UNDERWEAR; and SOUTHERN FRIED WHITE TRASH. Carole often appears on network television talk and news shows, as well as on national true crime radio shows. Her books can be found in bookstores, on, Barnes &, and at When she’s not writing, Carole travels throughout the southeast, talking to groups about women, children and the family. For more information, visit For more information, visit