I’m not sure whether the term “dust devil” is a real name or if it was coined by the ranchers who saw the damage caused by those little whirlwinds. No matter where the name comes from, dust devil is a terrific name for the wind phenomenon in dry Arizona.
The boys informed Granny, my mother, they were going to get in one of those dust devils. They wanted to see how it felt. Of course, Granny reminded them that some of those dust devils were known to take the roofs off barns and rip up miles of fence. A dust devil even took Granny’s front porch off and lifted it over the house and let it down in pieces in the backyard.
The boys were determined. “We won’t get in a big one,” they promised, “We’ll get in a tiny one. We want to know how it feels.” Now, if my memory serves me correctly, these were the same boys who, as toddlers, wanted to use the umbrella to parachute off the roof because Mary Poppins did it. Luckily, their mother caught them just in time.
If you think of an idea long enough, it becomes a necessity. Those boys had to know what it felt like to be in a dust devil. One afternoon, they saw a dust devil coming toward them. They had to run to get into it. They wished they had listened to Granny. When you’re in stress, time stands still. They wondered if they would come out of that dust devil alive. Although it only lasted a few seconds, it twisted them every which way. They struggled for balance and tumbled into each other. Finally, the wind let them go and they sagged to the ground with relief. They rested a few minutes before they got to their feet and made a mad dash to the house.
Their blond hair was matted with red dirt. Their eyes dripped with mud and their ears would grow Idaho spuds. They were so full of dirt. Interestingly, my nephews never mentioned wanting to be in a dust devil again. They even nodded with solemn belief and compassion when they heard that a heifer was carried a few hundred yards by a dust devil. They had learned their lesson.
When I was a young wife and had children at home, we had many family gatherings at our house. In the space of two months, we had two huge family reunions, a wedding and two funerals. In my house, when we had any kind of visitor, it triggered a passionate need to clean house. Not just pick up things off the floor and wash up the dishes. It is major cleaning time. The carpet must be shampooed, walls washed, cupboards cleaned, and every closet must be mucked out. Then the drawers and shelves must be spotless, not to say anything about the stove and refrigerator. Everything must be done and in perfect order.
When I got the urge to clean, my children would ask, “Who’s coming?”
It wasn’t that I didn’t ever clean. With five of the 11 children still at home, I was always cleaning. I used to get obsessive about cleanliness when there was a threat of visitors.
When my son got married, I even scrubbed the bathroom on my hands and knees. I cleaned the cupboards, and my husband even put in some new cabinet tops in the kitchen. Everything looked lovely. Well, not everything. The curtains above the sink were hanging crooked. I put them up, but I’m not a carpenter. My husband would never do my work over. It might hurt my feelings. I told him, “Hurt my feelings.” But he is too kind. The curtains still hang crooked.
That weekend, after my cleaning spree, the only people who came to the house after the wedding were the bride and groom. They left the reception too late to get their reservations at the hotel. When they arrived at our house, it was dark. They wouldn’t have been able to see the cobwebs hanging from the ceiling even if they had been looking. They didn’t even notice the crooked curtain rod. The dust devil cleaning had been for naught.
I cleaned again for a big family reunion. As I look back on it all, I really could have saved my energy. I was cleaning when the guests arrived, and I had even more cleaning when they left. I didn’t really have to clean the drawers in the dressers and closets. Nobody even looked. If they looked, no one said, “Why, Yevet, you have the cleanest dresser drawers in the state.”
I didn’t learn my lesson. The next family reunion, I had a virtual whirlwind in my house. Every box in the basement had to be opened and the contents labeled in new boxes. I even bought the boxes so they would all be the same size and shape. I wanted all my earthly treasures at my fingertips. I wanted to know where to find the first draft of my first play and every play thereafter. I wanted to be able to find unfinished embroidery and stacks of fabric and yarn. For whatever reason, I wanted to know where to find every outdated textbook I had ever owned. Yes, I still have them. After I finished, I knew where to find the clothes I would wear if I ever went on a diet and got too skinny for my present wardrobe. What a project. I was the dust devil tearing around. My kids had worse than dust in their ears and eyes. When we finished, we sat down exhausted on the couch. The whirlwind project was done. And who cares? Who is going to go down in my dark basement and say, “Wow! Yevet, all of your boxes match.”
Over the years, I realized: When it’s all said and done, nobody is going to care how well you kept your house. People are not going to talk about how many dishes you washed or how many socks you have neatly folded in your drawers. They won’t even describe how nice your basement looks with matching boxes. Real success will be how many times you made someone laugh and how many handkerchiefs you lent to wipe away tears. It’s how many times you deliberately ignored the house cleaning to play a game or just talk. Those are memory builders; those are the moments that will live forever.
So many times in my life, I have been caught in the thick and thin of things and ignored the weightier matters. I would wake up in the morning thinking about the mundane jobs I need to do. I’d make a mental list of which room I needed to attack, which clothes needed to be washed and what shopping needed to be done. I often caught myself making grocery list prayers for God to help me get though all the tasks I set for myself to do. To this day, I am not sure He cares so much about the dust devil cleaning as He cares about how I am growing in charity and treating my fellow beings.
I have learned that if I make a ritual of things I will do every day, the mundane tasks take care of themselves. Of course, it takes discipline to do those tasks every day, but it is worth it. For the most part, the dust devil cleaning has gone by the wayside. I don’t worry so much about people coming to visit. I don’t stress about the things tucked away in the closet and whether I can find all the relics of my past. It really doesn’t matter. I would like to say my house is perfectly clean all the time, but I can’t. There are still days when I want to be a dust devil and swirl everything to perfection, but there are more important things than cleaning, organizing and scrubbing. There are memories to make and people to bless.
Anytime I decide to make a dust devil in my house, I remember that whirlwinds do more harm than good. The daily cooling breeze on a hot summer day is so much more effective. A little bit of daily cleaning can go a long way.
Yevet Crandell Tenney is a Christian columnist who loves American values and traditions. She writes about faith, family and freedom.