Thursday, October 22, 2009

Dust and Other Dangers

The other day Karen and Ellie and I were chatting. Karen, who lives near Great Falls , had just had new windows installed. Both Ellie and I had previously done the same. What a difference it made at my house! Less dust, less noise and the temperature stays even. Karen mentioned how nice it was to be able to open and close the windows. Until now, as in many vintage homes, several windows in her house had warped or were painted permanently closed. “In fact,” she said, “it was stifling hot last night and for the first time, we were able to open all the windows. This morning the house was nice and cool with the breeze blowing through.”

“Isn’t it dangerous to leave all the windows open in Montana ?” Ellie, who lives in California , asked. Immediately I thought about the homes in her neighborhood which have security systems, barred windows and gated access. We three women grew up in Harlem , where nobody even locked their doors, so I couldn’t imagine what dangers Ellie had in mind. “Not because of burglars,” Ellie continued, “but because of wind and dust.”

The dangers of wind and dust. That statement stumped me. Neither Karen nor I responded further. I thought about tornados and dust storms which, indeed, are dangerous. But I know Ellie meant inside the house.

I love fresh air and often leave my windows open. I also like light, so my only window coverings are gauzy sheers. When the wind blows hard, as it does here on the Hi-line, sometimes my sheer curtains hover nearly perpendicular across the room. If I got up in the night, walked into a curtain blowing across my face, startled, tripped and fell and broke my neck, then, yes, that would be a dangerous wind blowing. But that is a far stretch for even my imagination. As for dust, yes, I had to concede that, for me, dust holds particular danger. And since our eastern Montana wind is always dust-laden, even in the winter, and since, weather permitting, I do keep my windows and doors open, the wind dumps dust into my house.

When I was a child my German grandmother taught me The Way to clean--her way, the only way, the right way. My first job every Saturday morning was to dust; walls, furniture, the ceiling corners, and especially under the beds. Grandma always checked my work, waiting to pounce on any hint of sloppiness. I trembled, anxious that she might find one of those errant gatherings which collect beneath the beds, fluffs which she called slut’s wool. I didn’t exactly know what a slut was, but I knew that if Grandma found a puff of dust, then I was one of those sluts and that was a shameful thing to be. For years, thanks to her training, I feared those dust gatherings. Slut’s wool kept me on the straight and narrow.

I was grown up and married before I heard a friend mention dust bunnies. I had to ask her what that meant. I thought the term was cute but I knew she was trying to prettify sluts’ wool. That was one phrase that could not be dressed up and disguised. To this day when somebody says “dust bunny”, I hear my grandmother’s voice shout “slut’s wool”.

Years later I re-trained myself to be a less compulsive cleaner. Sometimes I can wait long enough between cleanings that the dust bunnies mutate into dust hares. In the winter I often go a month without a thorough housecleaning. But in the summertime, with windows open to the elements and the wind blowing dust into every crevice, I have to clean every couple weeks. But every day I neglect dusting, my grandmother’s voice haunts me with “slut’s wool”.

Today there are notices posted around Harlem informing us that rattlesnakes are moving into town. Snakes terrify me. But I have snake-detector eyes. If a snake creeps into my yard, I will see it. However, I think a perfect hideout for snakes is around my cabin in the garden, where my raspberry patch nestles against the south side of the logs. When I pick raspberries, I have the eagle eye for snakes. And I don’t know if snakes have ears, but one can’t be too careful. So I wear my bear bells. I also talk to the possibility of snakes. “Okay, snakes, I am moving into this cluster of raspberry canes and then I am going to reach under these branches, so if you are here, please vacate the premises for a few minutes. Won’t take me long, just a few more berries and I am out of here.” So far this tactic has worked. I have picked gallons of raspberries and no snakes.

But if I had to meet a rattlesnake in the bushes or my grandmother taunting me with the full implications of “slut’s wool”, I would choose the rattlesnake. Against the rattlesnake, I have more defenses.

Sondra Ashton
Havre Daily News: Home Agin
September 11, 2009

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