It's been a tough year for Tina Brown. Her husband Kenny, a National Guardsman, has been in Iraq with the 39th, the Arkansas Brigade, since January.
His absence has meant 12-16 hour days for Tina, the megawatt leader of the Tidy Tina Team, now in its ninth year of operation, cleaning homes and businesses around the county.
Her team is 18 workers strong, counting Kenneth Duron Brown II, their 13 year-old son.
"He's working hard, too," Tina said, "and he's right where I can keep an eye on him. I heard him tell a friend: 'Mama is strict; but she's cool.' That was quite a compliment. He's learned that to have something, you have to work."
The business had humble beginnings. Tina had worked at the Conway Human Development Center for 18 years and loved it, teaching recreation and home economics.
"But there came a time when I needed extra money, and my sister-in-law suggested we get a few houses to clean. By the end of that year we had a lot of houses, keeping five of us, all sisters-in-law, busy."
"In three years we had 35 homes. By then I had decided to leave CHDC, but my daddy had something to say about that."
Her father, Ulicious Reed, superintendent of schools at Marvell-Elaine (Phillips County between Clarendon and Helena), was born in the Delta to poor parents. He wanted to better himself so badly, Tina said, he walked to Pine Bluff to attend then Arkansas AM&N.
He told Tina to think long and hard about leaving a state job, with all those benefits.
"But I showed him the Tidy Tina balance sheet, and all he had to say was: 'Well then, just don't quit'."
Growing up in the Delta taught Tina that "Delta women have to work." The extra hours she's working now "helps me keep my mind" instead of worrying and missing her husband. "And God and I talk a lot," she said. "I'm happy to be tired at the end of the day."
Kenny, executive officer to the brigade commander, called her on her birthday in June, and Tina said she was "Just like a school kid, so excited to hear his voice." They exchange e-mails every day.
Tina says her business has grown by word of mouth, mainly because of her work ethic and because "I clean like my grandmamma taught me: top to bottom."
When she cleans a home for a contractor (she gets work from seven builders), the house is ready and all the new owners have to do is move in. It's her most rewarding work, she said, because she can see what she's accomplished.
She keeps a waiting list of 10. Depending on the amount of bric-a-brac in a home, Tina charges $75-$80 an hour for residential cleaning. The cost of other jobs is based on the square footage.
New members of her cleaning team go through a three-week course, mainly consisting of cleaning residential properties with focus on the most-used bathroom in the house. It's a good test, she said.
"If they have a lazy spirit, or if they are slothful, then they can't work with Tidy Tina."
In March she donated her cleaning services to the first Symphony Designer House at the Ward Mansion, and she also works for Conway Regional, taking care of the Frauenthal Mansion, now the home of the hospital's foundation.
"God has put some wonderful people in my path," she said.