After my dad’s funeral, I spent a few days at my mom’s house. (Mom’s house. Not “my folks’ house” anymore. Sigh.) Dad had been sick for a long time – nineteen months – and Mom had provided the bulk of his care throughout his illness. So once the funeral was over, she seemed to be adjusting remarkably well – and was really, really ready to begin the work of downsizing.
Mom wasn’t necessarily looking to MOVE right away. It’s just that Dad had a lot of…stuff. He and Mom ran their own business for over fifty years, selling and repairing lawn mowers and weed whackers. Many years, it was more like what the IRS might define as a “hobby” (read: we were kinda broke.)
Add to this that Dad’s parents were in their prime during the Great Depression, and you have a formula that generates Mass Hoarders of All Potentially Useful Items. And by “Potentially Useful,” I mean “pretty much anything that can’t run away from you.” I’ve mentioned my grandmother before – she was the one who had an entire bedroom of her house filled with three things: empty boxes, plastic bags, and clothespins. My dad was her only surviving heir, so all of that went to him when she passed – her house AND the barn filled with old farm equipment, big field tractors, and, oddly, more cardboard boxes. (Hmm. The hubs is ALSO a collector of cardboard. They say you look for a spouse that resembles your parents….)
Additionally, Dad had a “shop” where he ran the business, plus a ginormous metal shed out back, which held a lifetime of pieces and parts of engines, tractors, mowers, and some random other mechanical whatzits that he’d saved from the dumpster at work to repair later, or just to HAVE, in case, you know, one had a doohickey thingamabob that might be useful on another mystery object.
So, to summarize – by the time Dad passed, he had filled three very large buildings with sundry metal objects. It was our personal tractor graveyard – three mausoleums, each filled to the brim, complete with wildflowers (okay, weeds) growing up around the rusty metal skeletons that spilled out into yard and the driveway.
And we can’t forget that Mom and Dad also had a four-bedroom house where every closet and basement corner was a veritable time capsule, filled and sealed off to the human eye once no additional objects could be crammed inside.
After over fifty years of this, Mom was ready to rumble.
We had started some of the excavating while Dad was still alive. But we had to be sneaky about it, moving items out of the house while Dad was asleep, and only the stuff he couldn’t see was missing if he’d had a good day and chanced to look out the window. (Because Mom didn’t want to upset him, ya know. A few weeks earlier, the priest had come by to visit, and, noticing the reduced clutter, said to my mom, “It’s looking really good out there!” The Look of Death that Dad shot to both of them permanently seared their souls. The priest was still rattled about that at Dad’s funeral – enough so that he apologized to my mother more than once for the egregious security breech.)
But Dad had been largely bedridden towards the end, so we managed to have one solid work day a couple of months ago. After hauling away three pickup-truckloads full of scrap metal, and leaving a couple large “free at the curb” piles for drive-by pickers, my siblings and I managed to clear out roughly half of the basement. Half. Almost.
Now that Dad was gone, it was time to start the heavier-duty purging. So Mom and I dug in. I had a few days off from work, so I wanted to plow through as much as I could before I had to return. And we were extremely productive: In two days’ time, we’d managed to clean out nearly every closet in the house. We took an entire car full of cans and bottles to the recycling center, and my “intermediate” rental was stuffed full (front seat, back seat, and trunk) of clothes to donate.
Look, here’s me dropping off the load. Check out my mad parking skillz:
We might have gotten more done, but Mom has these grand plans to have a huge freaking yard sale one of these days. So a lot of what didn’t get donated or trashed is now neatly organized in boxes that say “Yard Sale.” (Hey. It’s still a start.)
Going through parts of the house that hadn’t been disturbed in over thirty years yielded some interesting finds….
* My brother’s model car collection:
* My dad’s hunting outfit – and his hunting license. From 1968. Which was probably the first, last, and only time he hunted.
* Four bottles of liquor that were actually old enough to have gone bad. (Yeah, that’s actually a thing. Not that I’m a champagne expert, but I don’t think there are supposed to be flakes of what appears to be fish food in the bottle…which we THOUGHT was brown, but after dumping out the booze, was found to be, in fact, clear. EEEEWWWW.)
* VHS tapes. NINETY-FOUR OF THEM. #useless
* Six of those huge, Victorian-looking flocked photo albums, along with several boxes full of old pictures. None of which, unfortunately, were labeled, so we have absolutely zero idea who these people might be. History, lost. Document, people!
* Roughly four dozen carousels for slides. Remember slides? If not, we can send you some, because there’s probably eleventy billion boxes around here yet.
* My mom’s childhood doll. Her name is Ann. Isn’t she adorable?
My daughter was horrified that Ann was meant to be a child’s plaything. When she unearthed it, she came out of the attic, eyes wide: “Mom. That doll is freaking TERRIFYING.” Because I possess superior parenting skills, I decided to embark on a desensitization experiment with her, placing it next to her while she slept:
The next morning, after she awoke, she quietly and calmly approached me. In a very even, controlled tone, she said: “I know where you sleep, too…” and walked away.
And then texted me this picture done on the Face Swap app:
Anyway. Ann belongs to Mom, so she got to stay.
In addition to getting crap out of the house, we also tried to tackle other annoying projects that needed doing. The hubs has been really good about exercising his handyman skills when we’re visiting, and heartily tackles projects like replacing faucets, installing a wireless router, and fixing toilets while we’re there. (Admittedly, that’s probably way more interesting than sorting the aforementioned eighteen bazillion carousels of your wife’s dead grandmother’s vacation slides, right?)
I know how much Mom appreciated this. I wanted to help, too, but I don’t really have mechanical skills. However, I am pretty good at sorting and organizing, which is actually kind of ironic, because when I was a kid, I had The Messiest Room Ever. (You thought YOU did? Nope, sorry, that award’s been spoken for. It was so bad, my father actually agreed to quit smoking if I’d only clean my room. Now, Dad didn’t smoke a lot. (Thankfully.) He only puffed on the occasional cigar outside while he was repairing tractors – he claimed it “kept the bugs away.” Not loving the smell, I retorted that it kept the whole FAMILY away, and eagerly jumped on the deal. We shook on it, and while Dad kept his word and never bought another cigar…I never actually did clean my room. Well, not until now. (Apparently, I didn’t hold the title for Daughter of the Year. Meh. Can’t win ’em all.)
One of the things that was bugging Mom was her broken apple-shaped soap dispenser. Mom’s kitchen has an apple theme; she has an apple cookie jar, apple wallpaper, an apple clock…. The soap dispenser wasn’t expensive, but a quick Google search came up largely empty – most of what was online was definitively not cheap, and the apple shapes and colors available just weren’t quite right. But the pump on hers had crumbled with age; while you could sort of get soap out of it if you held the spout just right, the top kept tumbling off into the sink, diving precariously towards the drain.
I decided to head over to the local K-Mart (which the hubs calls K-MaPart, making me giggle every single time) to see if they sold soap dispenser pump thingies. The trip did not start out too promising:
After wandering about Housewares for awhile, and having no luck finding replacement apple soap pumps (go figure!) I ventured into cleaning supplies, where it occurred to me (duh) that I could probably just buy a new bottle of liquid soap and screw the new lid onto the apple dispenser. 99 cents and a slight trim to the straw part, and VOILA! We be fixed.
And the day before I left, Mom’s internet up and died. All the spouses, who fluently speak computer, had left a few days ago. Of course. But, since I wanted to help, I thought back to the many IT help tickets I’d filed in my lifetime, and all the frantic calls I’d made to Technical Services, and remembered the First Rule of IT Repair: try turning it off and back on again.
Hmm. Can’t hurt, right?
And that is where I discovered the problem: the router wasn’t getting any actual power. It was plugged into…well…this:
I’m fairly certain that this was one of the many items repurposed from Dad’s day job. In, like, 1972 or something. You can see that someone very helpfully supplied a job aid by taping over the non-working component. We added the now-dysfunctional power strip to the ever-growing trash pile and plugged everything into the actual wall. (Which took some maneuvering, because there was some seriously shady daisy-chaining going on behind Mom’s desk. I am just thankful the “power” strip didn’t go kamikaze on us and burn the house down on its way to that big dumpster in the sky.)
I powered everything down, waited exactly thirty seconds, and rebooted….SUCCESS! I AM AN IT GODDESS.
Anyway. At this point, I’d had several days of sorting, dumping, recycling, cleaning, and firmly persuading others to discard stuff. (I believe the term my brother used was “bossy.”) After nearly a week of this – not to mention the emotional upheaval of the actual viewing and funeral – I was pretty wrung out. I don’t normally sleep too well when I travel, and when you add that to the stress of the whole burying-your-dad dealio, it takes a toll.
The night before I left to return home was no different. It was stupid hot; I had a window open and a fan blowing on me, and my mind was racing and stuttering. After tossing and turning for a couple hours, I finally, eventually, drifted off to sleep.
A couple hours later, I found myself half-awake. Stress will do that to you. Stress at 95 degrees will do it to you harder.
Lying there, hoping for sleep to come back, I noticed the sound of the papers gently rustling on the memo board over my head.
<flutter rustle flutter>
I laid there for a few minutes, eyes closed. Tried to relax.
Focus on breathing. Think nothing.
<flutter thwap flutter flutter rustle thwap thwap>
Wait a second. Those papers are kind of…marching in step here.
<thwap thwap thwap thwap>
Kate. It’s the oscillation of the fan moving the papers. Go back to sleep.
<thwap thwap thwapTHWAP thwap flutter>
<flutter thwapTHWAPthwap flutter rustle thwap thwap thwap>
Maaaaaaybe I’ll just turn the light on for a second. I mean, I KNOW it’s just paper. But if I LOOK at the papers, and SEE that it’s just papers, I can go back to sleep.
I put on my glasses, and reach over to the light.
It HAS to be paper.
I take a deep breath.
I flip the switch.
To be continued….