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Vacuuming In The Nude: And Other Ways To Get Attention

about the reviewer

Penny McEntee is a senior at Austin Peay State University, where she is poised to receive her BS in English next spring. When she is not studying or penning her memoir, she can be found in the company of a good book or sewing on a quilt. She lives with her husband and two rowdy pups in Clarksville, Tennessee. 

Vacuuming In The Nude: And Other Ways To Get Attention by Peggy Rowe

Reviewed by Penny McEntee

Peggy Rowe has done it again. With the recent release of her third book, Vacuuming In The Nude: And Other Ways To Get Attention, she has shown us that you are never too old to become a published author. Rowe’s latest memoir is a collection of humorous short stories detailing decades of her daily writing practice, the multitude of submissions, and the endless list of rejections. It has already joined her two previously published books on the New York Times bestseller list. An amazing accomplishment for any author, but especially for someone who celebrated eighty birthdays before being published for the first time.

Rowe has been a daily writer for most of her adult life, and her forte is taking the mundane aspects of everyday living and spinning them into entertaining and hilarious stories and poems. In her book, she sums up the long path to publication: 

Long before I was a published author, I was on a journey – a writing journey that took me along a winding road filled with potholes and detours, a hairpin turn or two, and some pretty magnificent scenery (20).

Rowe further provides a humorous explanation of what her daily writing meant to her:

It had become my life. And it was almost a curse. When I wasn’t at my computer, I was reading books on the subject or thinking about a story. I woke up in the middle of the night to jot down an idea or to finish an entire chapter. I wrote when my arthritis was aching. I wrote while waiting for a colonoscopy. Oh yeah, I wrote when I should have been dusting or cleaning out the refrigerator. And no, I’ve never written during moments of passion – please give me some credit! – though I can’t guarantee you that my mind wasn’t outlining a story (25).

In Vacuuming In The Nude, readers will find themselves smiling and sometimes even laughing out loud at Rowe’s anecdotes about her childhood, her octogenarian years, and all the times in between. As a former teacher, wife, mother, and writer, she finds plenty of everyday subject matter to weave into her lighthearted stories. 

Before becoming a published author, her only claim to fame was being the mother of Mike Rowe – best known for his role on Discovery Channel’s “Dirty Jobs,” and CNN’s “Somebody’s Got to Do It.” Mike Rowe played a crucial part in getting his mother published. By sharing hilarious text messages from his mother on his Facebook page, he brought a lot of attention to her ability to write about everyday occurrences humorously. That attention gave Peggy Rowe the desire and confidence to submit her work to be published. She explains:

Just as a butterfly emerges from a cocoon and discovers the wonders of nature, I had emerged from the shadows and discovered the true reward of creative writing – which is, of course, sharing (26).

Peggy Rowe makes it clear that she did not become an overnight success. In the mid-90s, she gave up writing entirely. She writes, “with two unpublished manuscripts collecting dust on the shelf and enough rejection slips to paper the wall of our church sanctuary, Pollyanna had left the building.” Discouraged by the repeated turn-downs, she turned her attention to vegetable gardening, knitting classes, and making quilts. When she received a breast cancer diagnosis in 1997, she began to write again. Rowe writes:

I survived the treatment and spent two years in a cancer support group making new friends and losing them, feeling angry, feeling fortunate, feeling guilty – and journaling every step of the way with humor and optimism when possible. At the end, I wrote my story, and years later, during Breast Cancer Awareness Month (October), Mike published it on his social media page. It was read by millions who left thousands of poignant and heartwarming comments (38).

Rowe will have readers of Vacuuming In The Nude vacillating between feelings of sorrow and pure laughter as she relays that period of her life. Even with the notoriety gained from her son’s influence, she faced many more rejections before finally publishing her first book: About My Mother: True Stories of a Horse-Crazy Daughter and Her Baseball-Obsessed Mother, in 2018. Her second book: About Your Father and Other Celebrities I Have Known: Ruminations and Revelations from a Desperate Mother to Her Dirty Son, was published in 2020. Both are memoirs containing lighthearted short stories about growing up and family life.

Not to be overlooked are Rowe’s poignant observations about growing old. She writes with tenderness about the declining health of her husband of 61 years. Now in his 90s, her staunch supporter and avid cheerleader has recently lost his vision. Throughout the book, Rowe writes about her group of friends and their frequent lunch gatherings. Sadly, the number of friends who meet slowly decreases as time progresses – losses due to death and other health ailments.

Rowe concludes her book with an observation of the content. She writes:

This book will not teach anyone how to write or how to get a book published. I’m far from an expert on either. I’m certainly not here to encourage readers to follow their dream, because sometimes dreams are unrealistic and need to be adjusted or deferred. Think of me as one of those folks by the side of the road who offers sustenance to those passionate marathon runners and cheers them on along their journey. Because who doesn’t need someone to cheer them on – no matter what their passion may be? My all-time favorite quote is one attributed to Albert Schweitzer: “In everyone’s life, at some time, our inner fire goes out. It is then burst into flame by an encounter with another human being.” (231).

Readers of all ages will enjoy Rowe’s funny stories about routine doctor visits, the perils of raising three boys, the nosy neighbors, and, most importantly, finally achieving her dream when most people would say she was “past her prime.” Rowe’s stories remind me of a modern-day Erma Bombeck. While the writing style is very similar, the content is clearly different. Bombeck did not have modern conveniences such as email, social media, and cell phones to use as fodder for her stories. In contrast, Rowe has been able to experience everything from their invention to everyday existence. Both authors have proven to be masters of turning prosaic into hilarity. While some people have attributed her recent fame to the popularity of her celebrity son, I disagree. I believe that the proof is in Rowe’s writing alone. I urge everyone to read her latest bestseller and learn the full story about vacuuming in the nude!

As a fellow senior writer, Rowe’s success in her golden years has inspired me to continue writing in the hopes of someday being published. I added her first two books to my reading list and started following Rowe on Facebook, where she makes humorous posts almost daily.