Jo Carter-Harbin.jpg


I grew up in Rockdale County with parents who were always teaching something: “Put those scissors back in the same drawer from where took them.” “Young lady it is time for your chores — all play must stop!” “It is Saturday morning, here is the dust rag, work on the ‘what-not’ in the living room” — it held so many “what-nots” you couldn’t even see the dust.

All this took hours of my play time. The worst chore was to change my bed linens. I hated that. The bed was so big for a 7-year-old to work with. But struggle I would. Then, time to iron the sheets … with the old, non-electric smoothing iron.

On and on it went, the list was endless…you get the drift.

I grew up swearing to myself, “I’ll have a maid.”

But after an early marriage… no, there wasn’t any money for a maid. I had a dear friend who delivered her clothes to a lady who ironed them, and she picked them up weekly. I was not that fortunate — she is still a sweet good friend today, but she may be surprised to know I was always a bit jealous of this luxury she enjoyed.

Married life, two children, I earned my degree – titled “PH.T” (Put Hubby Through and worry about yourself later.) Even in the early 1960s I worked as a secretary to help make ends meet. We were finally able then to afford a babysitter/maid, and it was heaven on earth. She cooked our dinner, had babies bathed and cleaned and housework in order when we got home — I got to do the fun stuff. Play with the kids, read the Bible stories, volunteer in church, learn American Sign Language to communicate with the deaf... I got spoiled rotten, that’s what happened to me!

Fast forwarding this story… Sometime in the ’60s, mobility entered American life. Relocating families all across America became the thing to do – and we became one of those when my husband decided to return to school, seminary this time. So I lost all the niceties I was accustomed to: maid, clubs, vacations and worst of all, parents and grandparents to the children (and free babysitting). None of that is going to happen when you move 1,600 miles cross-country. Now, it was all “DIY” – and that included learning to give the family haircuts as well.

Pushing the fast forward button again… Circumstances change. My first marriage ended. I met the love of my life, David, in my 50s. Though we could certainly afford it, I refused any assistance with house cleaning at our home in Big Canoe for the first four years of our marriage. He finally said, “I married you — not the broom!” I got the message loud and clear, and found the best housekeeper I could.

I liked my new freedom! And she was good!

We relocated home to Conyers… and I found Fermina. She has been a great friend and a great help, especially as I have gotten older. My hands are hindered by arthritis. And my heart is still broken from losing David a couple of summers ago. But for six years, Fermina has been here for me.

Until … all of a sudden, overnight an intruder entered our relationship. Her name was Corona. You’ve all seen what’s happened.

Eight weeks … seems like eight years …since I’ve been able to have a visit to my home from my dear Fermina! You cannot imagine the trauma it has caused, not just at home but also at my real estate office, which has been closed as a non-essential business but still needs tending to. My general manager also owns an international shipping and logistics firm, which he operates from my office. We keep real estate moving by passing files through the door.

I know it doesn’t generate much sympathy – a little old lady who can’t see her maid – but this goes much deeper than that. COVID-19 has cut to the heart of every part of all our lives.

The moral of the story: Never take any single aspect of your life for granted.

My general manager has mopped the office floors, cleaned the bathroom, and taken out the trash; not one minute has he complained. Of course, with no one present but himself it can’t be that bad …but it has to be done. Wish he could come to my house and do it there.

But the hardest reality hit me Friday, April 17. I was home alone all day. As I walked the 15 -20 steps to my mailbox and back on my big excursion of the day, a question dawned on me … Oh no! When were my bed linens changed last?

I will never, ever, ever, ever, confess the answer to that question. I began to weep. My hands can’t manage changing linens. My loving husband always stepped up to that plate between Fermina times. Since his death almost three years ago, I have managed to have my Fermina beautifully and sweetly do that chore for me. But they are self-quarantined and rightfully so.

But the scene of me changing my own sheets should be in a comedy movie.

Since when did they begin to make sheets large enough to wrap halfway around Stone Mountain? Thank goodness they weren’t that way when I was 7, I’d still be doing chores. The more I tugged, and the more I pulled, the more sheet seemed to be coming off my bed. I would stop and rest a while, let my aching fingers relax a minute while I worked on a pillow case that was so tight on the big fat pillow I could not even shake it out.

It was truly like a “pig in a poke” as my grandfather would have said. I had comforter, throw pillows, additional throw, spread, blanket, sheets, pillow cases slung all over the room and strewn from bedroom to laundry room. I was fightin’ mad – and my hands hurt so bad I was bawling. I was also crying because I realize more each and every day how much I miss my precious, loving, adorable, husband. If he were here in the room, I’d be hugging him and crying and telling him how very much I appreciated all the things he did for me, especially those things he knew my hands would not permit me to do.

Then I got mad – mad because Corona had stepped into my life and taken Fermina out of it for who knows how long? My husband is gone forever, I’ve accepted that. But I still had my Fermina.

I threw myself a little pity party right there on the spot. And I was mad enough that if Corona was listening, she’d have left (and between you and me, I hope she leaves out tonight, and never bothers another beautiful soul).

That’s my small saga. That’s where things stand. Word to the wise – do not ever take your spouse, or any friend or loved one, for granted. Here today, gone tomorrow, never to return. It’s a very hard thing to adjust and live without them. Promise yourselves, promise each other, you will make whatever changes necessary to live in peace and harmony within the walls of your home.

Be glad you’re not at my house for my pity parties. Do everything you can, and think of more, to make your home a “home school” where the top grades are handed out for who does the most for others.

And for goodness sake, maybe cut the little ones some slack when it comes to changing the bed linens. Or not. Every lesson learned counts for something. Make yours count the most.

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Jo Carter-Harbin is broker/owner of Carter’s Galaxy of Homes Inc. in Conyers.


I have been editor of the Rockdale Citizen since 1996 and editor of the Newton Citizen since it began publication in 2004. I am also currently executive editor of the Clayton News Daily, Henry Daily Herald and Jackson Progress-Argus.

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