Friday, August 19, 2011

The Not-So-Funny Side

…or, Welcome to My Train Wreck.

I suppose every humorous story needs to have a serious side, or maybe it’s just a need to vent my frustration in writing and this is my preferred outlet for such things. Because I value my readers, I will promise to keep this as light as possible, despite the fact that it weighs heavily on my heart.

Train wrecks. The theory is you can’t stop it, and you can’t look away. I have a train wreck in my life. Past, present, and future; it’s a big-assed mother-fucker and my head spins whenever I think about it. I can see what it did to my organizational skills and my ability to prioritize certain tasks.

Hoarders. I hear there’s a show about them on television. They probably all have their stories of why they are the way they are, and it all sounds so logical, at least it does to them. I can’t watch that show. My heart stops every time I see a commercial for it and I have to fight the urge to hide my eyes. Only problem with hiding my eyes is that I can never remember where the fuck I put them.

But that’s not the point; the point for me is how much that show scares me. My mother is a hoarder. Her hoarding is the reason we sleep in a tent trailer when we go visit. Her hoarding is the reason she has two houses (small houses, but houses nonetheless) and they are both filled with stuff.

Newspapers that have information or articles that she wants to keep (she does not have a computer, so there is no way she can check it out online). Books, books, and more books. Enough clothes to outfit a legion of elderly women, costume jewelry (not the good stuff, the tacky, gross stuff) that would fill a large steamer trunk, and shoes, purses, hats…

Food. Oh dear Goddess…my mother hoards food, but not the fresh stuff, oh no, she hoards stuff that has a “best used by” date that is not of this century. I cleaned her kitchen last year, hauling out six garbage bags of refuse; bulging cans of food, moldy…stuff, broken things, and who knows what else. Six bags, and folks, her kitchen is tiny. I finally managed to get it so the oven door closed (there was a black widow spider living in there because the oven doesn’t work). This allowed my father to actually get to the bathroom without too much trouble. Her food collection and kitchen condition are two reasons Tam and I did the cooking for the evening meals (and made sure there was enough food for lunch the next day).

There is a bedroom that is no longer fully accessible because there is too much stuff piled inside.

There is a beautiful “new” house complete with air conditioning, fully functioning doors and windows and a nice view of the valley, but they can’t use it because it is filled with stuff and there’s no room for my father’s chair.

She has a large mish-mash collection of antiques that she refuses to part with because she wants me to have them. While I wouldn’t mind having some of the items, you can be sure that I do not want, nor have space for, every damn thing. Tam loves to go “treasure hunting” in my mother’s house, although this last time, something exploded on her feet in the kitchen and she was completely grossed out. Couldn’t go poking around for a good two hours after that.

They spend most of their time in what they call the retreat, a one-bedroom house that my grandfather built. The bathroom is unsafe, the foundation questionable, and there is no air conditioning. But that’s where the stove is, with its one working burner, and the frightening fridge.

I understand why she is that way. As a child of the depression, you didn’t just toss used items away if they broke, you saved them and either fixed them, or used them to fix other things. They had no guarantee of food, and the only shelter they had was a tiny house with a wood stove and a pump for water in the kitchen. When my grandfather finally got around to installing indoor plumbing, my grandmother was delighted. That meant the house would actually get larger with the installation of a bathroom.

Or so she thought, instead he converted the second bedroom into the bathroom. He had issues…one of them being too many girlfriends (he and my grandmother had divorced when my mother was two) and they were making demands of their own on his time and handy-man skills.

I get it, I really do. She never liked to clean house, and when I was growing up, her first priority on weekends did NOT involve chores. They involved things like garage sales, second hand stores, antique stores, exploring the countryside, and whatever she could think of that would take her away from the mess at home. It kind of did a number on me as well, which is why my house has always had that “extremely well lived in” look. It looks like it is lived in by ogres. Messy, messy, ogres. Fortunately, Tam is not of that mind and has learned the fine art of keeping me on task when it comes to certain things… like cleaning.

But you can’t mention that kind of thing to my mother or she will totally freak the hell out. She becomes defensive and if you even hint that all you want to do is help her out, she will get her back up and accuse you of implying that she is not capable of taking care of her own house and insulting her intelligence.

It has nothing to do with smarts, it has everything to do with mental illness.

My father, is not a hoarder. He’s rather tidy, as tidy as he can be. He nests in his recliner, everything he needs during the day is within arm’s reach. He can’t get around the houses very well, and he tends to fall a lot, so he figures it’s just best if he stays put and watches television or works his crossword puzzles. In a ninety-degree house (unless it’s winter, then he has his space heater near by).

But he’s of the miserly mindset when it comes to some things regarding household maintenance (he calls it being careful, but considering someone bilked him out of nine-thousand dollars, I’m not so sure). He firmly believes that if you don’t flush toilet paper, you don’t have to pump the septic tank. Ever. If you even mention it to him, he starts sputtering and fuming and telling stories of how people come out, pump the tanks, then steal everything in sight.

Did I mention that both of my parents are a little on the paranoid side?

They are so afraid that someone is going to come in and rob them blind, they will not allow anyone to come in and help them. The piles of rusting farm equipment continue to grow and rot, and no amount of advice from me will be listened to or heeded.

While it breaks my heart to see this, it scares the hell out of me, because I know there will come a time that I’ll have to deal with it because either my parents will have crossed over or they will no longer be able to live out in the country where they can get away with this kind of behavior.

See that light up ahead? It’s not the end of the tunnel, it’s an oncoming train and I’m tied to the tracks.


  1. I am so sorry, you have mentioned this briefly in my comments when I talk about the show Hoarders and how it is one of my favorites. Mental illness is aweful (coming from someone with it, so I speak with experience) and admitting that you have it is half the battle. With her age probably comes so much "stuck in her ways" that it is probably impossible to get her to seek help (or is it?)I've heard medication can help quell the anxiety and urges and maybe that would help (along with therapy) to get her straight? If not, I can't imagine the heap you are carrying on your shoulders knowing this will be your problem when the time comes.

    I'm sorry that you've grown up like that and carry that burdon.

  2. DM - I keep trying to figure out a way to get her into some kind of therapy, but she's frightfully embarrassed about the condition of her home, so the chances of her telling anyone outside the immediate family about this is unlikely.

    Thanks for the support and understanding.

  3. Hugshugshugs... I'm so sorry that you're carrying such a burden. Britt's mom also has the need to stockpile food. Not quite up to the hoarder level, but still.
    I think that when a parent has a mental illness, it's especially hard on the kids, no matter what age those kids may be. Take some deep breaths & whenever the time comes for you to have to deal with that mess, let your friends know & we'll see what we can do to help. ^-^


  4. It is so hard to deal with hoarding because there is no easy fix. I feel for you, Karen. Even broaching the subject is incredibly delicate. I really hope your Mum can get some help with it. What a stressful situation for you.

  5. Thank you ever so much for solving Britt's & my battle over that ever-so-tasty hazelNUT & chocolate spread. Actually, thanks to Tam, as we're adopting "Nufftella" as the way to say it now... XD



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