Tag Archives: Hoarding

The Man with the Neon Green Wig and a Half a Mannequin

Everyone Needs a Half a Mannequin

Aunt Kathleen would be sorry she missed this garage sale

I parked across the street from a church garage sale and watched as this man worked to arrange his purchase – a half a mannequin – into his bike cart. He reminded me of my Aunt Kathleen. Last week, I wrote about the great time I had as a child, visiting her fun-filled home [Click Here] and, a half-mannequin would have been a great addition to her play room.

Somewhere along the line though, as I progressed into adulthood, the tons of items in her home went from amusing to annoying.

When Grandpa died and she had to move to town, I helped her pack up all the junk treasures stacked in the rambling two story farm house so we could cram them into a tiny cottage she’d bought.

Every article had to be examined and evaluated for its worth and, as it turned out, everything was worth keeping. The only place we made progress was in the pantry where, with significant wheedling by my brother, Rick, and I, she agreed to part with the dusty jars of green beans that her mother had canned twenty years ago.

We also managed to toss out several things during the time Aunt Kathleen ran screaming from the house when we discovered at six-foot long black snake living in the pantry.  Rick picked up the rusty shovel that was in the kitchen (you keep a shovel in your kitchen, right?”) and killed the snake, tossing it through the back door where Aunt Kathleen had stood moments before. I froze, a scream ready to erupt when Rick punched my shoulder. “Quick,” he whispered. “Start shoving stuff into these trash bags.”  We managed to fill six bags before she returned.

Aunt Kathleen eyed them suspiciously. “Did I really agree to throw all that away?”

I ducked into the pantry while Rick dragged the bags out to the trash pile.

“Wait!” she cried and took a step to follow Rick out the door.

I held up a broom with a broken handle and said, “This can go in the trash, right?”

She gasped and snatched it from my hand. “Of course not. Mama used to use that to sweep off the front porch.”

That’s what I’ve learned about hoarders – each item has a strong emotional attachment, and to throw it away is akin to having one of their limbs cut off.

The fork with only three tines?

“Mama used to eat her pie with that fork.”

The moth-eaten military uniform?

“Your dad was wearing that when he came home from the war.”

And so it’s gone for the last thirty years. A broken television, kept because she’d bought it with her first paycheck, the new one placed on top of the old one. As she grew in girth, new clothes were hung on top of the smaller ones, which must be kept because she remembered where she’d gone in the outfit. The five hundred decorating magazines blocking the front door — filled with  projects she planned to create with the broken dishes she’d been collecting for years.

And now she’s gone and I’m tasked with going through it all again. The family and I spent a weekend shoveling out and sorting through the first layer. A hundred plastic bags from the dollar store with her purchases still inside. Another hundred bags stuffed with only empty plastic bags. And a dozen stacks, from floor to ceiling, of puzzles.

As I worked through the pile of thousands of empty envelopes and junk mail I could hear my brothers and sister mumbling. “What the? Why would she keep…the plastic tabs removed from her insulin medicine/the empty containers of hand lotion/the expired food?

Our next clean out will be in the basement. I wandered through it the other day and without the layer of trash, I found myself reappraising what’s left.

“Why, here’s a perfectly good wooden clothes-drying rack.” That doesn’t count as hoarding because I’ve been wanting one of those.

“Here’s a cast iron skillet.” That doesn’t count because I can use it in my camper.

“Well, what do you know. There’s her old treadle sewing machine where she taught me to sew.” That’s not hoarding – that’s keeping a memory, right?

It’s Not Hoarding, It’s a Funhouse!

shutterstock_108936575When I was a kid, my Aunt Kathleen lived 1/4 mile away from us. She and Grandpa shared a two-story, ramshackle stone house that had been built in 1856. Judging from the amount of stuff in it, that’s when my aunt started collecting. Now I know her problem is called “hoarding” but as a child, her home was a funhouse stuffed with ancient games and dress up clothes.

I can close my eyes right now and remember the sensation of stepping from the hot summer sun into the dark cool kitchen. It smelled like a combination of percolating coffee and layers of dust, with the slightly earthy hint of decaying food, a fragrance I found oddly comforting.

shutterstock_120611089In the background, static from the metal-framed black and white TV competed with the mack-truck-sized stereo that played Petula Clark singing “Downtown.”

I’d stop at the dining room table, slide an Oreo from it’s package and pat the mammoth orange tom cat that slept next to it. Then I’d inch past Grandpa sleeping in his chair, his one millionth game of solitaire laid out on a board across his lap.

As I twisted the Oreo apart and scraped the creamy filling off with my teeth, I’d wave to Aunt Kathleen. Her jet-black hair, piled in a beehive a yard high, wrapped turban-style with tissue paper and fastened with long pink clips.shutterstock_118550869 She’d be on the phone, talking to her friends or, just listening in on the party line.

If she was talking, I’d sit on the floor next to the stereo and wait for the next 45 to drop, while I eavesdropped on her conversation. If she put her fingers to her lips, that meant she was listening and I would tiptoe up the rickety staircase to the second floor, first room on the left.

Here, was magic – The Playroom. I’d don a battered Raggedy Ann wig, toss a molting fur wrap across my shoulders and slip into a mismatched pair of sequined shoes, demanding that the armless one-eyed doll do my bidding. Perhaps, I’d pull on a pair of too big overalls and buckle a six-shooter around my waist. Then I’d climb up on the molting rocking horse that no longer rocked and ride off into the sunset.

After fifteen minutes, or maybe two hours, Kathleen would call me down for an iced tea laced with spoonfuls of sugar. We’d sit out on the front porch in the swing. She’d point out the latest addition to her treasure trove and our conversation would go something like this:

“I found that boot on the side of the road. I thought I’d keep it. You know, in case someone breaks their leg and they need one shoe.”

“A’cept, wouldn’t they haveta have broken their left leg?” I questioned.

“That’s true.” Aunt Kathleen gave the giant swing a push. “Still, I have a 50/50 chance of having the shoe they need.”

“Yeah-but, wouldn’t ya it need to be the right size?”

“Hmmm. I hadn’t thought of that.” She stopped the swing and hauled herself up. “Run get me that shovel on the side of the shed.”

We moved slowly out to the center of the yard, her faded pink rubber flip-flops slapping against her wide heels. She thrust the rusty shovel into a patch of weeds and flowers.

Ten minutes later, the boot stood on the top step of the broken wooden porch with an orange day lily leaping out it.