Reunion – Epilogue: Promises were made

Six weeks – and seven posts – after the family reunion, I’ve had time to reflect on what happened that weekend.

BJ:  He’s a 27-year-old working man, taking on the responsibility of a family while still having a lot of “boy” in him.  Raised by a couple of complete nutters – with some crazy siblings for added fun.  He also is pretty heavily medicated for ADHD.  Not always the brightest bulb, but he can work a miracle “cypherin'” the amount of wood planks required to repair a deck.  Last weekend, he took third place at the county fair with his demolition derby car, and is piecing it back together to enter another contest in a few weeks.

He’s done the best he could with what he’s got.

DQ:  Manipulative?  Certainly.  She’s raised it to an art form, always being able to find the angle that maximizes personal gain.  Bad at financial math?  Life-long history of spending money she doesn’t have.  Poor choices of partners?  At least the first few…  Does she take care of Mom?  Yes.  Absolutely.  Perhaps not the way i would want to be cared for, but Mom prefers this to other options.  She may have limitations when it comes to making good decisions in everyday life, but when the shit hits the fan, she can get the job done with ruthless efficiency.  When Dad was dying, she was my first call for help with the ugly shit.

She’s done the best she could with what she’s got.

TK:  Coming from a wealthy family, she had every opportunity to excel – and she has.  Retired from the world of professional golf, she is now gainfully employed within the same community, and works her ass off at her job.  She plays just as hard, often as captain on her boat — generously taking family and friends on deep-sea fishing, snorkeling and diving excursions.  Her demon was falling madly in love with my sister – and it’s been one of the hardest challenges in her life.  Having no experience with mental illness, she’s had to do some reading to compliment her ‘on the job training’.  Has her own therapist now, too.  But she’s willing to try to stay in for the long-haul, and…

She’s doing the best she could with what she’s got.

Hurricane T:  Bipolar disorder, to a degree that would hospitalize many, she is a tenured professor at a large university.  She’s invested well, and worked the real estate market to great advantage – even earning a Real Estate license just to make sure she understood the innerds of the business.  When her body chemistry goes out of whack, she’s dragged the family through some bizarre territory – from cults to gut-wrenching emotional drama.  This has fueled a gigantic rift within the family, as she called “bullshit” on Mom’s living arrangements early and often… and loudly.  She’s had bad luck with partners until recently.  Oh, and she can be funny as hell.

She’s done the best she could with what she’s got.

Mom:  My earliest memories of my Mom involve yelling.  She used to scare the kids in the neighborhood because she was the ‘mean mom’.  If she wrote her life story she said she’d call it “Bitter the Apple“.  But she also tried her damnedest to help us with school projects, volunteered for classroom parties, and hauled our adolescent asses to the skating rink every Friday night.  She has a good heart, and would buy us far too many gifts at Christmas as a way of showing her love – also making up for all of the things she didn’t get as a poor kid.  A classic hoarder from that, too.  She was a ruthless caretaker for Dad, keeping all of his lab work and medical reports in a folder to make sure nothing fell through the cracks.  When he was diagnosed with Stage 4 colon cancer, the prognosis was horrible – and yet she helped keep him alive for another 3 1/2 years.

She’s done the best she could with what she’s got.

daisyfae:  Lumpy, middle-aged, emotionally hardened woman, trying to make good on a death-bed promise to her father.  “You’re it.  You’re ‘Number One Son’.  You need to look out for them…”  Through that reunion weekend, with a good bit of effort and a well-timed snake attack, the familial rift has been patched – at least for now.  Mom talked to Hurricane T – and reassured her that she is ok with her arrangements, even if the house is never finished.  i came to appreciate who DQ and BJ really are – and realized that i should give a bit more slack.  Mom will always be bitter and broken – and the more her body hurts, the crabbier she’s going to be.  Did daisyfae keep that promise to her father?

She’s done the best she could, with what she’s got…

Scratching the surface

How much stuff can be crammed into about 1,000 square feet?  We’re still not sure…  the archeology continues.

Mom was less snippy today.  Last week, when my niece DQ was throwing fuzzy, expired food away from the fridge, Mom said “I’ve had it! I’m going to bash someone in the face…”.  Definitely less theatrics today.  Since i’m just back home, after about 7 hours of excavations, i’m just gonna ‘hoark’ a bit…

Sainthood:  BJ, my niece’s husband, is a hero.  He was laid off from his construction job last week, and used his time off productively.  Spending at least 10 hours a day at the house, he has sorted, organized, hauled and manhandled at least 4,000 pounds of shit.  All the while, he has shown patience that the rest of us can’t muster with Mom.  Reassuring her that all boxes marked “keep” will be kept, and that we won’t throw away anything she needs…  He is a good human.

Hoarding:  i am not confused about this – it’s clearly a form of mental illness.  i remind myself “she can’t help it” when she tells me to “throw out those pickles, but save the jars” as i balance on a broken chair in the garage, up to my armpits in plastic yogurt containers from the 1980’s.  She’s verging on panic when we spread out in different rooms and she can’t watch every move we make.  She wants to touch each item.  Tell us what it is, why she saved it, why it’s valuable. “These newspapers are worth a lot of money – they’re from the start of the Iraq war…”.  Wondering if upping her Xanax might help…

The cost of chaos:  So far, we’ve found a dozen automotive ice scrapers.  She no longer drives.  Multiple boxes of plastic cutlery, some still in the grocery bags with receipts.  Paper napkins – THOUSANDS of decorative napkins – still wrapped, with the “75% off” tags intact.  Unopened cleaning supplies, purchased with the best of intentions, inaccessible under boxes and bags and buckets of ‘stuff’.  As we were working today, she said “I can’t afford to replace all this…”.  Made me sad.  If she’d have bought what she needed, as she needed it, or even FIND it amidst the rabble… But the result is a stockpile for Armegeddon.  She could have probably saved thousands of dollars over the past decade or so…

But of all the tales from the front, this one perhaps best captures the scale of the disaster area that is my mother’s house…

HazMat:  In the 1960’s, feeding a family of six on a tight budget required taking advantage of sales, and buying in bulk.  A chest freezer in the utility room was Mom’s best friend.  When all six of us were there, she was in and out of the freezer on a daily basis.  But as we moved out, and home cooked meals became smaller and less frequent?  It was an albatross.  But a fully loaded albatross. 

The last time we seriously tried to excavate the house – 10 years ago – we considered the logistics of getting the damn thing out of the house.  Not a small appliance – 4′ wide and 6′ long.  i took a stethoscope to it to see if it was still running – a gentle hum said the electrons were flowing, but we had no idea if it was cooling.  Those excavations aborted, the freezer sat for another decade.  Unopened.

Last week, BJ collected a crew of his biggest friends, and they took the side door off the house and hauled that thing out.  It was sloshing, so they knew there was nothing frozen inside.  As they lifted it to get it past a planter, a black, slimy sludge sloshed out – releasing a horrific odor.  One friend puked, another ran off.  Mom’s neighbor had been helping with the final push, and went home to grab a respirator.  He was able to get the freezer sealed up in plastic.  But not before the stench was released….

Now that it was out?  How do you get rid of it?  Can’t take it to a dump (freon), can’t have it picked up on bulk trash day (suffocation hazard).  Never mind that it was loaded with liquefied rancid animal flesh.  Craig’s List Curb Alert?  Why not!  It took a couple hours, but finally a truck showed up.  They wanted the scrap metal, perhaps worth $100.  They knew what was in it, and even spilled a bit of the goo loading it up.  But they took it… 

Un-fucking-believable to me that anyone would voluntarily take a 500 pound metal tank, full of festering rotted meat.  For free.  But this conclusively demonstrates the blessings of scavengers.  Here’s to the buzzards and dung beetles of the world…

We’re not done yet.  Far from it.  But there is access to every window in the house so that measurements can be taken for new windows.  A 20′ long flatbed trailer was filled with trash, to be taken to the dump tomorrow.  Progress…