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 “You drove an uninsured car that isn’t registered and has outdated license plates?”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.
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.
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.
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.
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?