After watching an episode of Clean House and seeing several episodes of Hoarders, one can only imagine how such a situation with a close relative can impact a person. It inspired me to write about my mother and how her addiction to “stuff” inspired both my sister and me.
My mother used the reasoning from growing up poor in the depression and not having the things that we take for granted. She was born in 1920 and lived in downtown Jersey City, New Jersey. Her parents were second generation Irish Catholics. She spoke about her mother giving everything to her sister and having very little left to give her, including sending the older sister to nursing school. Her mother, who had an enlarged heart, was a plus size woman from the pictures that I remember seeing. She died before I was born and her death was attributed to her only children, both girls marrying out of the Catholic religion. Her sister was older than she by about a year and she married a Jew, while my mother married my father who was Lutheran. It amazes me how both women and their husbands celebrated over fifty years of marriage despite their religious differences and how back then so much prejudice abounded. Mind you, this was the family speaking and not exactly the final diagnosis.
My father was my best friend and it seemed that although my mother loved him dearly, she tormented him as much as possible at least when they were older. Any reason to argue with him was good enough for her. I think I realized why after he died; having old fashioned ideas, my father did not add my mother as a survivor to his pension so she did not receive any of his pension money that she would have been entitled to. We truly think that she had bipolar disorder or some other mental disorder but even if it could be diagnosed post-mortem, it has little bearing now.
I spent much of my time working two jobs during this period; during the day as an office manager and the evenings and weekends as a Tupperware manager with a large unit of at least fifty dealers. This was the fun job and the one that allowed me to have a social life, have a vehicle at my disposal that was mine 24/7 and no car or insurance payments on it. During the time I was with Tupperware, I had a total of seven cars or vans. So every chance I got, when I had a delivery to make, I called my father and told him I needed company on the ride; just to get him out of the house. We always had a great time in our travels.
My father knew how being a collector of sh**, as he called it impacted both his and her life. She could fill up every space in the house with something. They had a kitchen with a table that just about had enough room for the both of them to eat, the rest was covered with stacks of mail and magazines and anything else you could think of. In their dining room, unless company was coming or it was a holiday, that table was covered with anything that did not fit on the kitchen table. It pains me to write this because I am addicted to books, magazines, and mail too and have an office that I allow to be my junk pile. The rest of my house is lovely and fortunately there is a door on my office. I live here with my computer, television, DVR, copier and recumbent bike. Every few months or so, I clean out and give my magazines to the waiting room at the local health center where I volunteer and it eases my conscience too. But looking around my office, I am often times overwhelmed.
Getting back to my parents, my father used to explain it to my sister and me when we were alone. He would tell us, you better hope that your mother dies before I do, because if I go first, this is gonna be all your crap! His way of expressing himself was passed along to both my sister and me. We speak from the heart; at least I know that I do. And his prediction was true. He passed away in January of 1996 and she died November of 1999. It took us a few garage sales and many church donations to clear out as much as we could. I know that my sister still has quite a bit in her things in her shed that we have yet to go through. There were things there that we never knew existed because as her friends passed away, she gladly accepted any of their cast offs that the families no longer wanted.