Kicking up the dust
I grew up in a dusty house. There was dust from dry summers and dirt roads. The smoke-and-ash dust of a house fueled by a potbellied stove. The plume of dust that rose, then fell when the fuzzy blades of ceiling and exhaust fans, up under a high roof, spun for the first time in two seasons. Books so dusty you wouldn’t want to fan them and lids so dusty you could tell how rarely we used honey or paprika.
There was really no beating the dust, which at least didn’t settle on the most popular furniture and playthings.
My mother had an old ostrich feather duster, which seemed to me a highly glamorous housekeeping accessory. But it was retired from use; she said it would shed feathers and stir up the dust. I think she kept it only because it had belonged to her Aunt Cynthia and was a relic of her childhood in a quiet Victorian house, where the dust didn’t get the same chance to settle.
Oh, but I loved stirred-up dust. When sunbeams from the highest windows in the house cut through the afternoon shadows downstairs, they were like spotlights on the dust hanging and swirling in the air. To see that now I would cringe, but then I sat and marveled at it, thinking about fairy dust and glitter.
Much later I would worry that, having grown up in such an unabashedly dusty place that dirt just meant we had been there a long time, my housekeeping standards – in my dorm room, apartment or eventual house – would be dustier than everyone else’s and I wouldn’t realize it. (A fear likely related to my very late realization that for 17 years, I walked around smelling like a smoked hindquarter on account of the wood stove that centered the house. I learned this only after I moved out, and my clothes filled an entire room with the smell of barbecue.)
There was no need to worry; the magic of dust wore off. I’ve dusted baseboards and fan blades and those hairy corners behind bathroom doors and what have felt like miles of mini-blinds. (Side note: I intend never to have mini-blinds again. Reason no. 3,002 that I like living in the country.) I notice dust as easily as anyone else – and of course by now I know I’m in good company even if I don’t do anything much about it.
But at home, dust isn’t just a problem of fan blades and hidden corners. We’re building a house, and there’s a new layer with every do-it-ourselves project – again, dust is just life. In the beginning, it stayed outside. But the framing and roofing went fast, and before long the work was happening indoors. A table saw sat on our kitchen island for months, and as we got new window sills and door frames, we watched the sawdust pile up inside the cabinets and settle into waves on the walls and window screens. We sanded new and old floorboards for days. We blew denim fluff into the attic for insulation, the biggest mess I’ve ever seen. My husband (rocking the head lamp, as usual) and his brother had dusty eyelashes and stubble, and despite sheet plastic and closed doors, the aftermath required days of vacuuming.
And still there are harbingers on the to-do list: baseboards, tile, a new stovepipe for the chimney. It makes me long for the day that the dust doesn’t settle on the seats of chairs and resigns itself again to hard-to-reach places.
Until then, I’ll imagine that my son is getting his chance to love it (for him, it’s more Bob the Builder and Dirt Devil than fairies and glitter).
Are you haunted by housekeeping?