Tucked back in the dusty attic beneath a trash bag lay a plastic Winchester toy rifle from the 1960s. Heat had melted a hole on its barrel and sealed the end of the barrel, but the gun still cocked and clicked lacking the requisite roll of red paper caps. The last owner of the home had raised her sons and then aged there, “she became a hoarder her last few years,” the seller said.
It began with saving a few of her sons’ clothes and toys. Stepping carefully over books and lumber, I opened the small closet door and found Boy Scout uniforms with hard-earned badges. Behind me a couple of crumpled boxes held the pieces of unfinished plastic models. Books, boxes and electronic equipment covered the floor of the attic. The son offered to help remove books I chose, “Mother loved to read,” he said passing a books down the ladder. “She never climbed the ladder. Whatever went up here stayed,” Her son said. “She also did not do stairs not even when she showed homes as a Realtor. She would walk through the house with prospective buyers until they came to the stairs and then wave them on ‘ya’ll go take a look.’” he laughed lovingly at her foible.
And now he had returned home to clean out the dirt and debris. He cherished the memories made around the dining room table. “I’m taking it back with me to repair. I don’t know when I’ll have time,” he said and listed his commitments including the care of disabled adults.
My last visit to the house coincided with his last day to remove the remainder of his mother’s hoard before the new owner took ownership. The old family home needed repairs. During my first visit as I made my way around boxes and furniture in the back room, the seller said, “be careful that you don’t fall in.”
I stopped abruptly and studied the floor. The boards did look less than sturdy. The tub in the corner bathroom had not held water in years. Overflowing metal and plastic shelves lined two walls. Forgotten furniture and garbage bags draped carelessly with blankets littered the floor.
Boxes of Christmas ornaments and stockings and had taken over another bedroom floor. Age had dulled the once brightly colored package of toy airplanes she had given one Christmas. Nothing remained of the toys from the family dime store. “When we visited my grandmother, we could choose one toy each day and two on Saturday. The store was closed on Sunday,” the son explained.
In this house, his mother had stitched needlework pictures of birds, arranged a table using her fine dishes and crystal, encouraged her sons in Scouts, given them toy rifles and welcomed neighborhood kids who came to play. Well some played, the son laughingly recalled one who, “used to come over, but he was more interested in the girl next door.”
Workers moved another bin of debris to the dumpster. A wooden index box appeared on the window sill. The son opened it and flipped through the alphabetized cards, “These are my mom’s contacts. They all had the same handwriting,” he mused. He set the box aside to carry home. Each name reflected a long ago friend of his mother. So much time yet even with all her hoarding, so little of value remained when all was said and done. He packed up his truck and trailer. He and the workers swept the floors and locked the door for the last time. The time had come for the house to begin a new chapter.