The V Word
A Mother's Day surprise!


On Mother’s Day, what says, “I love you, Mom!” like a new vacuum cleaner? A whole lot of dark chocolate with almonds might do it. Or a pair of chunky silver earrings, or a dozen of the smelliest roses. Even a phone call saying, “I love you, Mom!” does a pretty good job. But it takes a vacuum cleaner to really evoke the whole motherhood experience. Oh, the many times I shoved a vacuum under a child’s bed and got a pajama bottom tangled around the brush roll. Do tears spring up prompted by wistful memory, or by the smoke of the jammed rubber belt?

It really takes a vacuum to get that Mrs. Cleaver-in-pumps-and-pearls thing going on. So when my trusty old Hoover fell in the line of duty (the valiant little screw that kept the handle attached to the rest of the contraption gave way dramatically, at the top of the stairs), I went out to do an initial reconnoiter on the possible replacements. As I surveyed the machines displayed at Stuff Mart, I was surprised to find that just plain ol’ vacuum cleaners no longer exist. The same thing has happened to vacs that happened to tennis shoes a couple of decades ago: They bulked up. Not only do these machines have more accessories and tubes and attachments than ever before, but they are generally swathed in puffed-up plastic, the Appliance of the Big Shoulders. It’s an SUV for your living room. They come in gray, black, maroon, and danger-yellow, colors preferred by manly he-man vacuuming men everywhere.

But it isn’t what I really wanted. I can’t have the vacuum I want, because it belongs to Mitchell. He’s a member of our church, the guy we baptized in a horse trough in Basil’s dining room, but that’s another story. When we bought a church building and held the first big clean-up day, Mitchell arrived with a dandy ball-shaped canister vac called a Hoover Constellation, which he’d inherited from his grandmother Naomi. What’s neat is that the hose comes directly out of the top, stretching unencumbered in every direction. But even better, the exhaust goes directly out the bottom, so that the machine floats along on a cushion of air. Just like a spaceship. Fifties-era consumers loved how this little beauty drifted effortlessly over the green sculptured living room carpet. They didn’t love how blasting hot air scattered dust all over the checkered kitchen linoleum. You can’t have everything.

Since I can’t have a vintage Constellation, I had to choose one of the monsters on offer down at the Bulk Warehouse of Fine Living. About this time my husband got interested, and joined me in combing the Internet for reviews. The best choice was quickly obvious: a Eureka Boss 4870. It consistently wins high marks for cleaning ability, and what’s more, it’s not too expensive. It has all the accessories you can think of except cup holders. So we went out one sunny afternoon and bought one for a mere $139. (This is what passes for a date after you’ve been married 32 years).

At home, Gary put it together and we took it for a spin. Or tried to. For one thing, this monster truck has a much bigger footprint than the retired Hoover; while that was a reasonable12” x 12”, the Boss claims 19” x 11” of real estate. It also has a higher hood, so it wasn’t going to dart under beds and between chairs like the old one did.

What’s more, it’s heavy. Really heavy. It weighs around 25 pounds. It’s like pushing around a big sack of dog food. And that’s empty.

That’s also turned off; once you spark the ignition, the motor’s powerful suction grips the floor like a panther grips a gazelle. The brush roll pulls it forward, which helps some, but requests that it draw backward or turn to the side were met with deep reluctance. I didn’t even bring up the topic of stairs.

This is one hungry machine. I wasn’t sure, now that the kids are grown and married, that our house actually creates enough vacuumable debris to keep it fed. I was afraid that I’d wake one night to find it nibbling the blanket.

So Gary took it back for a refund. Awhile later, he came home with an Oreck.

Now, even a moderately top-of-the-line Oreck does not look like a linebacker. It looks like a canvas bag on a stick. The footprint is only 9” x 12”, and the hood a modest 4” high. It weighs in the neighborhood of 8 pounds. It’s like driving an MG.

And it costs $500. The Oreck people must be sensitive to the fact that some will consider $500 rather a lot to pay for a machine that (for my purposes anyway) cleans about as well as a Eureka Boss. So when you get the thing all unpacked you find enclosed a whole second vacuum cleaner. This one is a small black plastic canister vac. You could thread a black velvet ribbon through the handle and wear it as a lavaliere.

We’re very happy with our Oreck, and regret that the Boss didn’t work out. But the whole episode goes to prove a surprising household-budget rule: sometimes you can get *too much* for the money.

Always remember that. But not till after Mother’s Day.

Frederica Mathewes-Green writes regularly for NPR’s Morning Edition,, Christianity Today, and other publications. She is the author of Gender: Men, Women, Sex and Feminism, among other books.


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