Dust Motes in Grandma Pistner’s Upstairs Room

by Sara Rubin

I must have been about 5 and remember going with my mother to the house where her mom was still living. It was a simple wooden frame house, on a small town street in Pennsylvania.

Every week my mom would go to her mother’s to help with little chores, and this week she was washing curtains and pinning them onto wooden framed stretchers to dry. The drying room had been an upstairs bedroom, empty now of course, but for two big curtain frames. I can picture that room so clearly that I could draw it, looking in the doorway. It was at the top of the stairs, to the right, with two windows on the right-hand wall.

This house was my mom’s house too, or had been. She did grow up there. But I never asked her which room had been hers, and where did the five boys sleep? Where was Grandma sleeping the night her newborn son died? —I didn’t know then anything about the baby dying though, that might be a story for another time, and I don’t think it had anything to do with the impression the bedroom had on me —

I had to wait around the room as Mom worked, and I didn’t like it. The room was old and silent and hollow. It had little color; maybe the walls had once been a light yellow, but had now faded to a pale plaster. It had a strange smell, not exactly musty or unpleasant, just strange; sharp, like dry wood in a room that had been quiet for too long.

I don’t know why it frightened me. It probably had to do with the overwhelming “past-ness” of the room. It made me feel that I, in my leather soled shoes that made small echoes as I walked, was an outsider, not from ‘their’ time.

And there was no movement, nothing moved, except for the specks of dust  floating in shafts of silver sunlight coming in the slightly clouded windows. There was only stillness; no “present”. Even the dust motes drifting aimlessly were keeping their own counsel, not caring about us or anything outside their silent world.

All these years l have been perplexed as to why this experience in that abandoned bedroom lives so strongly in me…

But, now I feel I might be coming closer to understanding it. Perhaps, I think, I had seen in the those unconscious random dust motes the Inscrutable, the Other, perhaps the ancient Magic world of Druids or fairy folk. Perhaps I sensed that those tiny floating specks were manifesting something completely outside human experience; not good or bad, not loving or hateful, just inscrutably Other. Unconcerned, completely separate, completely different.

Maybe as a child I had sensed this separate silent world and knew it was strange, and didn’t jibe with my own world— one where where mothers helped mothers, where people did chores and lived everyday lives in simple wooden houses with painted rooms— and it frightened me.

And made an impression that has lasted a lifetime.




Sara Rubin is a local artist and environmental conservationist who has had a family pottery business for years in Brighton NY. Though her husband and she continue making and selling their pottery, she has also begun to write about the people and animals and places that make up her world.
(Sara can be reached at rubin150@aol.com or sarakrubin@gmail.com)