We built a beautiful post-and-beam home with no interior walls. Yup, it was all one room except for the bathroom. We could sit in our first-floor living room and look up over the rail at our bedroom and even farther up at another little loft with my writing desk, keyboard and my dad’s rocking chair. We could throw dirty dishrags up over the balcony toward the laundry area. We could drop a sweater down for whomever was cold. Christmas lights started 30 feet up in the tiny sky loft and swung all the way down through the bedroom and farther down to the living and dining rooms. It was gorgeous.
On the other hand, the house did present some cleaning challenges, and this is not a small thing in the country. Out in the country, when the farmer plowed the field south of us, we’d have black-out conditions that would have made Winston Churchill proud. And the grain dust and aerosolized soil blew in through every crevice, coating everything.
I had to conquer the dust, so I purchased one of those 15-foot extension poles to attack the beams three stories up. Sadly, no matter how strong the steel or how much you pay for the industrial kind of pole, when it gets that long, it will bend. It will whip around banging into things because it’s also very heavy, and you cannot control it. A little dust rag on the end of a steel pole is still no match for dust thrown by a combine with its rooster tail of dirt or a biplane that sprays god-knows-what that drifted our way like nuclear fallout.
The one thing I could not conquer was the stone fireplace. It sat in the center of our house, rising through all the “non-rooms.” And was huge — 32-feet tall, about 12-feet wide and 4-feet deep. Remember Tennessee Ernie Ford? 16 tons? That’s what we got. 16 tons of Wisconsin fieldstone crafted into a beautiful structure. And you’ve no doubt heard that Iowa has lost its precious topsoil? I knew where it was. It was all on that fireplace. The rocks stuck out all over creating hundreds of little shelves. No normal dusting device can handle it. The stones are rough, so if I used lamb’s wool or feather dusters and duct taped them onto that giant handle device, bits of feather or fabric clung to the stone. That did not look better than dust. Truthfully, others probably couldn’t see the dust, but I knew it was there.
One day I was determined to give it a really good dusting, just for once. After all, it had been three years. Then it came to me. It would take a little sacrifice because at first, the dust situation might get a bit worse before it got better. I went to the garage to get my favorite appliance, my electric leaf blower. I thought it was worth a try.
I took the leaf blower up to the second floor and into our bedroom in the balcony. I plugged in a long orange extension cord, aimed the blower at the top of the chimney far above me and turned that baby on to the “Hi” setting. Out in the boonies, there’s no room for hesitation. One must take action with confidence.
Clearly, I had underestimated the power of the leaf blower when it is used in a confined space. I believe they should put that information on the box. In my defense, the immense cloud of dust that exploded throughout the second level of our home impeded my view of the events that took place over the next few minutes so I could not react effectively. Furthermore — and I know you’re wondering — no, I could not simply turn it off. I was holding one hand over my eyes and nose and was blinded by dust so I had to hold the blower with just one hand. I couldn’t let go to feel for the on-off button. I couldn’t unplug it because I had used a 30-foot extension cord and pulling on that did no good. The location of the outlet was but a distant memory. One hand was not enough hands, so the leaf blower was whirling around in all directions.
It ended in about a minute. When I could open my scratched and burning eyes just a slit, and when the dust began to thin, I was able to assess the situation.
This technique had not only freed up all the dirt from 3 years of plowing and harvesting, it had done a pretty fair job of pruning our ficus tree. Dead leaves were on all 3 levels of our home. Furthermore, I could look over the balcony and see my husband’s underwear on the dining room table and one of my bras draped over a lamp in the living room. Frames on the walls were still rocking back and forth. I do have to say, if you’re one of those people who has a messy desk, this really is the solution. All of my papers, pens, coins and small books were strewn throughout the house, and my desk was clean as a whistle.
There really was much less dirt on the fireplace, but every piece of furniture, the walls, the insides of windows, the plants, the terrified dogs, me — everything was breaded in dust.
Not to make excuses, but people in such stressful circumstances sometimes make even more bad decisions. Here was my reasoning as I decided on my next move: can this get any worse? So, I opened the double-doors in our living room and tried to blow everything out onto the deck. I aimed at the doors, but everything simply became airborne once again. This time, when the dust settled, my dogs were missing and there stood my husband. Of course, I had not heard his car pull up. He was in the hall, looking up at me.
“Would you want a boring wife?” I asked. For a fleeting moment, for the first time in 35 years, I think I saw him considering that possibility.
— Wendy Gilbert-Gronbeck
Wendy Gilbert-Gronbeck’s work has appeared in Our Iowa and Michigan History Magazine. She’s taught broadcast writing, written video scripts and been accused of “being raised by a pack of wild metaphors.”