21 October 2007

Respect and Old Age

My mother’s lived in her house since 1972, and the people across the street were there before her. They were a sweet couple of teetotallers, he a Methodist minister, she the cookie-baking minister’s wife. He died five years ago. She’d been doing well, but fell a couple of months ago and landed in a nursing home. Bang zoom: her kids put the house on the market, moved their mom to a facility in the mid-West, held a tag sale, and filled up a dumpster with the detritus of two lives.

It’s so sad.

The tag sale was yesterday. It was run by a hostile incompetent hired gun – the place was a mess and the stuff was priced completely erratically and mostly unmarked (so you had to ask, whereupon she made up a price on the spot). You’d think that someone running a tag sale, working on commission, would want to maximize the income by keeping things presentable, by clearly pricing everything, by acting knowledgeable and helpful. In this case, you would be wrong.

There were still spices in the kitchen cabinets and Q-tips in the bathroom. For all I know, they were for sale. There were clothes in the closets and piles of linens on the floor. There was no order to anything.

My mother and I wandered around – I found a handmade double wedding ring quilt in a heap upstairs, and asked how much. $5, said the hostile incompetent. So I bought a quilt for $5 – I don’t need it, but I couldn’t walk away from it. There was a handsome mirror in the dining room – my mother said she’d been asking $400 at the pre-sale earlier in the week. By yesterday, the price was down to $75. I went back at the end of the day and offered $20. She countered with $30. I left. About 10 minutes later, my husband showed up – I sent him across the street, and he came back with the mirror for $25. And my mother went over and came home with a little upholstered rocker for free – earlier, the hostile incompetent had been asking $60. So erratic.

Once the tag sale was over, they starting heaving things into a dumpster. Plaques given to the minister. Antique clock parts (his hobby was clock repair). Dishes. Books. Christmas ornaments. Napkins. Space heaters.

It’s so disrespectful.

It’s so wasteful.

My brother and sister and their spouses and a family friend and a neighbor headed across the street after dark and, wine-fueled, dove into the dumpster with flashlights.

It seemed right to rescue some bits of their life. A pressed glass citrus reamer. A crochet hook. A pinecone-shaped iron cuckoo clock weight. A Horatio Alger book.

It could have been done so much better. They could have found a way to let her stay in the house. They could have found her a place to live in the area - where she has friends and neighbors and acquaintances and church folk - instead of shipping her off to the middle of the country where she'll know no one but her dead husband's elderly brother. They could have hired a more sensitive person to run the tag sale. They could have been more respectful of her stuff, her life, her things, his life, his hobbies, their life. They could have packed off much of the stuff to thrift shops, to shelters, to people to whom the stuff would have made a difference. A space heater tossed in a dumpster does no one any good. A box fan...the same.

It sounds like I'm blaming her children - and in part I am. But it's also our society. We think nothing of discarding things and people, we disrespect the past. In that is our curse for the future. It's environmental. It's societal. It's human. We should do better.

21 comments:

BipolarLawyerCook said...

It is sad. As you said, some of the stuff could have gone to shelters and others in need. And the memorabilia? If the kids didn't treasure it, they could have given some of it back to the church, for keeping in their archives-- or to the local public library or historical society. It is a shame.

alejna said...

It is sad and frustrating. The waste, and as you say, the lack of respect. I'm glad that you and your family were able to rescue some of the things.

I know that things are just things, but they matter to me. Our personal effects are part of our culture, and our history.

painted maypole said...

that is very sad. i'm shocked the kids didn't go through the stuff... i could see if you had to hair someone to sell it, but you think they would have gone through it first.

I have a wedding ring quilt my grandmother made, and gave to us for a wedding gift. it is such a treasured item, and I can't imagine it going for $5!!!

jen said...

this made me feel very sad. the lack of regard for a full and valuable life, the amount of waste...all of it.

jo(e) said...

It's sad and wrong on so many different levels ....

slouching mom said...

These kinds of stories make me so depressed. You're right -- no respect for the dignity of a life.

Suz said...

I couldn't stop reading this post. It is disrespectful and awful ... that she wasn't allowed to put her things in order, that more didn't go to charity, and that her children didn't do it themselves. There are some things that you can hire others to do. This isn't and shouldn't be one of them.

niobe said...

It is sad to realize that the things that mean so much to us are likely to eventually mean nothing to anyone at all.

WorksForMom said...

I can't believe they wouldn't have recycled or donated more ...

This is the kind of post that just sticks in your head. Because it is so raw, so true and so incredibly sad.

mayberry said...

How horrible. I wonder if the children knew how awful the hired gun was? still, there's no excuse for such waste and disrespect.

Aurelia said...

This DOES sound awful, but Maggie, it's highly unlikely that she could live in her own home anymore, so yes, someone had to come in and take care of getting rid of stuff.

Did it have to be this way? Not a chance. I see this a lot, in fact, I know people who run businesses where they do nothing but empty out houses and sell items, and sort. And usually they make sure that sentimental items are sorted out, and others are given to shelters, and the valuable stuff sold properly. I'm really unclear as to why it had to got to the dumpster.

Yes, I have no doubt there was garbage and detrius in there, but unless she was a hoarder, a dumpster is excessive.

People wonder why I keep sorting and throwing stuff away and try to get organized so much, but it's because of this really. God forbid anything happens to me at my young age, I don't want to leave a disaster to my family to have to wade through. I want them to be able to find the good stuff easily.

Furrow said...

Wow. This post makes me want to cry so hard (what doesn't these days?) but the wine-fueled dumpster diving brought a smile to my face.

My aunt tried to get my grandmother into a nursing home after she had a mini-stroke last year. She vehemently resisted (with the help of my mother) and is back in her own house. She'll probably burn it down one of these days with one of her recklessly mislaid cigarettes, but at least she'll die at home.

flutter said...

just breaks my heart. It really just does

Janet said...

The truth of this makes me dread getting old.

Irish Goddess said...

This is so sad. It is such a different scene than the Estate Sale I went to on Saturday. The owner was still there, able to fill me in on the stories of each item I picked up and fondled. We love to go to Estate Sales, not only because of the really cool pieces of quality, but also because of the history. I love bringing into my home bits of other people's lives. You can feel, as well as see, when an item has been cherished.

Of course, we also have been to a few of those sales where they are run by hired guns, with no care or feeling toward the items nor the owners. That makes me want to buy all the more, to give back some of the dignity and love that has been stripped away.

I hope there was some good and justifiable reason for their mother to be put in a home somewhere other than where she had lived her life.

thrice said...

freecycle.org is a great way to recycle stuff. The people who need things come to you and pick it up. E-V-E-R-Y-T-H-I-N-G can find a home.

Emotionally, I have a hard time going to this post. Old age seems to be disposable. So sad.

andi said...

That's so sad. I think I would have done the same thing - rescued the stuff to honor them in some small way.

Robbin said...

That is so exceedingly sad. Our culture has worshipped youth for so long that the way we treat our elderly has become criminal.

There is so much that went into that dumpster that the children will regret having when their parents are gone. The one thing I lost in Katrina that I miss the most is my grandmother's hope chest. It was my last tangible link to her. It pains me to think of it at the top of a landfill.

Teryn said...

That's sad that her kids didn't care any more than that -- and sad that they showed so little respect for her life.

My grandmother is unable to live by herself and is now living with my parents. I think about her house sitting empty, full of usable, well cared for things that she'll never use again. I don't think, though, that any of my family would treat anything in her house with that sort of disrespect.

Kristy said...

This is so depressing, especially thinking that it could happen to each and every one of us eventually. I'm so glad you recued the quilt--good for you!
(dangerpanda.com)

Brook Ann ( the Great ) said...

Well said. We should do better.