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Kicking up the dust

March 4, 2011

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?

13 Comments leave one →
  1. March 4, 2011 7:07 pm

    Really enjoyed this, Leslie. Not the dust so much as your lifelong connection to it (and I had to laugh at your clothes stinking up a room). I still love watch dust dance and sparkle in a sunbeam spotlight … even when it’s happening in my living room.

    • March 6, 2011 9:31 pm

      Those clothes were really something. It took weeks to wash and air them all out! And then there were the books and the blankets, all like smoky sponges. I still appreciate a dusty sunbeam – but more when I’m visiting my dad than in my own house. 🙂

  2. March 4, 2011 7:07 pm

    I hear you on mini-blinds Leslie. I can’t stand them myself because they are dustmongers and really don’t do anything for me aesthetically.

    One thing I love about reading blogs is how it makes me intimate with a world that would otherwise be alien to me. Country living, home-building are all strange concepts in my part of the world but because you have so much love and pride as you speak of them, it draws me in – not just in an eye-opening kind of way, but more like vicarious living where it takes me to a faraway place from where I am now and sometimes, it’s a very, very good thing.

  3. March 4, 2011 8:42 pm

    Mama is a neatnick, so we never had dust. I think she’s pretty dismayed at my slack housekeeping skills. My attitude is: Hey, I have kids. Deal with it.

    ps: The men pictured? YUM.

    • March 6, 2011 9:22 pm

      I consider dust-free homes a remarkable superhero sort of accomplishment. I’ll be feeling proud of my attention to baseboards and toilet tank lids, and then then the sun goes and tries to reflect off of the TV screen when it’s off. Egads! p.s. SO passing along your compliments. 🙂

  4. March 6, 2011 11:49 pm

    I am certainly haunted by housekeeping. You used to love dust? I never did. Because even when I was a kid, I knew the dust would make my mom upset. I HATE DUST! Good luck with that house of yours, by the way. It’s looking good, bright and white!

  5. March 6, 2011 11:49 pm

    I’m haunted by the lack of Hazel the Housekeeper. Does that count?

    As for mess and dust, who doesn’t prefer tidy? But tidy isn’t reality for most of us (with kids, certainly). And in the grand priority list around our household, dealing with dust is way. down. low.

    As for sawdust – I love it! I consider it an element of hopefulness, of building something new. What’s not to love about that?

    (Pass the Pledge, please.)

  6. March 7, 2011 12:41 am

    I am a self confessed neat freak, but dust still lingers in hidden places in my home. I love that last shot of you and Jack. So cute.

  7. March 8, 2011 3:50 am

    Would you believe I never notice dust? It’s the one chore I never do because I really just don’t see it. It drives my husband nuts … but not enough to dust himself! So. You can imagine the dustiness that surrounds us, and we don’t even have the excuse of home-building.

    Also, when my son first noticed dust particles glinting in the sunlight, he would call them bubbles. “Look at the bubbles, Mommy!” How could I dust and deprive him of that joy??

    PS: Making a mental note to get my good-looking husband a good-looking headlamp …

  8. March 8, 2011 11:59 am

    Oh how I know this…I think the dust is permanently etched into my pours. But there is something about construction dust that just smells good. At least I think so.

    Uh oh…I’m not sure I like the nostalgia that prompts…I am starting to get the itch.

  9. April 6, 2011 11:45 pm

    Hey there, just checking in on ya’ll…missing the AK updates in these parts 🙂 xo

  10. Sister permalink
    April 8, 2011 11:49 am

    Your public demands more!

  11. April 30, 2011 3:44 pm

    I hate dusting the most. I’d rather do ANY other household chore. Why is that?

    I liked your childhood romp through dust. Especially the feather duster. We have one of those. It makes me feel fancy, but it really doesn’t work.

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