Adventures in Hoarding # 2–My Sister-In-Law is a Saint

My Adventures in Hoarding were off to a rocky start before I had even reached Mary’s (my late mother-in-law) house. I hate flying and the five-hour flight from Phoenix to Virginia gave me too much time to question my sanity and fret over how I was going to manage this near-unmanageable task.

When I got off the plane–this was before 9/11–there wasn’t anyone to meet me because our son Mike, who was staying in Mary’s house, had gone to the wrong gate. By the time we found each other and headed for the parking lot, it was after one a.m. I was tired, grumpy and in no mood for surprises. Nevertheless, I got one.

When he put his arm around me and said, “Mom, I have to tell you something before we get to the car,” I knew it wasn’t going to be good. “Grandma’s station wagon caught on fire. The fire department said it was the manifold.” Then he reassured me that the fire was quickly put out and that no one was hurt.

The news wasn’t so terrible, after all. But he hadn’t gone on to explain how he had gotten to the airport. I was pretty sure this was the part that I really wasn’t going to like.

After a very long pause he added, “I drove the other car.”

Mary had owned a red, ’63 Pontiac convertible, but to my knowledge it had been sitting, unused, in the barn for years. I don’t know how he even managed to get it running, but that wasn’t the point. “You drove an uninsured car that isn’t registered and has outdated license plates?”

“Yeah.” Then he went and did something I’ll never understand. He told me the truth. What twenty-year old kid tells the truth about misbehaving when they don’t have to? He and a friend had taken the station wagon for a two-week, five-state road trip to follow the Grateful Dead–this was only about a month before Jerry Garcia departed the earth. The extra miles they put on the wagon was more than it could take. Fortunately, it hadn’t caught fire until they returned to Virginia. When I pointed out that he didn’t even like the Grateful Dead, he insisted that it was the experience of a lifetime, an opportunity he couldn’t turn down. They had earned gas money by selling homes fries at truck stops. Under different circumstances, I might have been impressed by their resourcefulness.

This was not your typical Dead Head. No peace signs. No tie-dye teeshirts. No love beads.

Considering I was already on edge, did I really need to know that he was irresponsible enough to take off like that without telling anyone where he was going? I didn’t necessarily want him to lie, but my mental status would have been much better if he hadn’t divulged quite so much. It takes a lot to get me angry, but we had quite a conversation on the way to Mary’s house.

I went straight to bed when we got there. I assumed I would be sleeping alone. Wrong. At some point in the night, I turned over and caught the sight of a tiny mouse leaping from the bedside table onto the bed. I don’t know which one of us was the most surprised. I screamed, it ran off and my son who had rushed in to see what was wrong nearly fell over because he was laughing so hard. This only confirmed my suspicions that he was stolen at the age of 2 and raised by hyenas.

You probably thought I was joking about the red round velvet bed. I haven’t a clue what Mary was thinking.

The next day I woke somewhat rested and full of mental clarity. The reality of what I was taking on hit me and I immediately fell apart. I called my husband who insisted that I didn’t have to do this, that I should just come home and we would deal with it later. But I was stupid determined. I was going to stay.

This was the dining room. As far as I know, no one ever ate in here. It was just for show. Ha!

Oddly enough, the Universe had thrown me a lifeline. My brother, his wife and 12-year-old son had just moved to Annandale, Va. so he could attend law school at George Mason University. They drove out to see me and the house they had heard so much about and when they got there, I burst into tears all over again.

Planning our strategy. This was the only room that wasn’t completely trashed. I guess my secret is out–I’m not a natural blond.

My sister-in-law, Lynda, is a gem. She insisted on helping me. She wanted to. She wasn’t just saying it–she really did. She wanted to find out what was buried beneath the boxes and bags and trash. Overwhelmed as I was, so did I. We bonded as sisters that day. Curiosity was our motivation, chaos our enemy and excavation was our goal. They took me into town so I could rent a car. Then we planned our strategy, I stocked up on supplies and the following week we attacked.

Trivia question: If we filled more than 2000 trashbags, how many truckloads of garbage did we have hauled to the dump?

About Diana Douglas

Diana Douglas, author. Coorganizer of the Arizona Novel Writers Workshop. Member Arizona Historical Novel Society, Member BooksGoSocial Authors, Transplanted Texan.!/themodernscribe
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12 Responses to Adventures in Hoarding # 2–My Sister-In-Law is a Saint

  1. Jerry Garcia? The station wagon was an appropriate sacrifice. 🙂
    I have no idea how many truckloads it would take to haul away 2000 bags of trash. Is there an algebraic equation for that?

  2. The station wagon was awful–the convertible was probably safer, even if it wasn’t legal. It took three truckloads to haul everything out. I was freaking because I had a terrible time finding someone who was willing to do it. The mountain roads weren’t easy for trucks that size to navigate.

  3. The parts of the story about your son are hysterical. The rest is unbelievable. The pictures make it hard to deny your determination to be THE most helpful daughter-in-law in the universe.

    I can’t conceptualize 2,000 garbage bags, but the landfill got a lot bigger after you were done. Bless your heart. There’s nothing like sorting through trash with someone to help your forge bonds that last a lifetime!

    • I have to be honest. The main reason I was the one who went out there was I was the only one who could do it. My husband didn’t have any siblings who shared in his mother’s estate and he had been out there so much over the previous year that he didn’t have any paid time-off from work. Because my mother-in-law liked to do things like hide money in books and stuff valuables in garbage bags we couldn’t hire an outsider to do the clean-up.

  4. hawleywood40 says:

    Wow – I’m trying to envision 2,000 garbage bags and don’t think I’m even coming close! Although the timing was awful, I do have to say that I was impressed by your son’s resourcefulness selling home fries – my friends and I often talked about these kinds of trips but never got it together enough to actually do it : ).

  5. What’s so great is that he now has a 14 year old son and a 7 year old daughter who is going to be a HANDFULL when she’s a teenager. I used to tell him “I hope you have kids just like you only 3 times worse.” The Mother’s Curse works!

  6. westwood says:

    The guilt of holding in secrets really does make for divulsions at the strangest times. Divulsions is not a word but I think it ought to be.

  7. Lafemmeroar says:

    Wow. Your dedication to this is … I don’t even have the words to describe it. I sort of like the red velvet chair. It’s kitchy cute 🙂

  8. molly says:

    The first ‘Hoarding’ post was seriously disconcerting, the wrap-up left me truly impressed that you volunteered, but have since read about her tendency to hoard cash in that trash, so wholeheartedly agree – although a bore, it was a family chore. Love the mouse saga, cheers catchul8r molly

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