Today the Wife acts as the executor at the closing of her mother’s home. It’s a process that began for us a few days after her mother’s death in September, when I walked into a home whose owner would never return. Calendars with days X’d off in August that suddenly stopped after she entered the hospital. Half open cartons of milk past their due date. A moldy package of strawberries. Unopened 8oz cans of soda meant for visitors like my son.
On my first visit I pulled several bags of groceries out of the fridge, and the process of removing items from the 3 bedroom 2.5 bath didn’t stop until last night. A woman who had been burdened by stuff all her adult life was finally freed of it. Nothing remained in the house that identified it as hers anymore. She could rest at last.
The 59 boxes of Armstrong flooring that the Wife’s father purchased 18 years ago to lay a dance floor in the basement – and which his wife nagged him regularly about it until his death 4 years ago – was thrown in a dumpster at the dump by his grandson. His prized scratchbuilt 80286 ended this incarnation of its existence at an electronics recycling center. I had to open it to marvel at the boards filled with IC chips and ominous looking PSU before leaving it in a pile of discarded printers, computers, and televisions.
The pantry full of canned goods that the mother-in-law regularly sorted through and rearranged was donated to a local foodbank. We hired a novice group of estate sellers to sell the contents in the house, but they overpriced everything and sold relatively little – so we were left with furniture, household goods, knicknacks of every sort, tools – things collected by two people over 57 years together. Most of what was left was modern, and there were no antiques.
We had separated out the junk and taken a little more than a ton of it to the dump, so what was left was usable items that weren’t new. Evidently poverty no longers exists in the US because we had a heck of a time giving the stuff away.
At the Goodwill that I have been donating to for years, a supervisor stopped a worker from helping me unload my SUV full of household goods. “What you got,” he asked gruffly. I pointed to the car. “Stuff I don’t need,” I said. He began pointing to things. “That’s Christmas stuff, and it ain’t Christmas,” he said. “We can’t take that.” Glassware? He wouldn’t take that either. A heavy electric drill? “That’s too old.” The more he picked over the stuff, the madder I got.
“You know in Africa I knew men who would turn tin cans into toys because their kids didn’t have anything,” I said coldly. I received a blank stare from the supervisor. “What can’t go onto the floor right away goes into the dumpster and we get charged to haul it away.” “But this isn’t junk. The vacuum cleaner works. The christmas lights work. The glassware isn’t chipped or broken.” He shrugged ignoring me. “Call Salvation Army; they’ll take anything,” he said.
So I did call Salvation Army. SalArmy required an itemized list given before they arrived. They would only take what was on the list. If an item wasn’t on the list, they wouldn’t take it. Nothing could be damaged or broken, and all furniture had to be on the first floor. So last week I inventoried 37 pieces that we set aside for them, and moved an entire bedroom set, TV and stand down from the second floor.
The Wife dealt with SalArmy yesterday. At first they refused to take the bureau from the bedroom set because its finish had been marred over the years by my in-laws opening and closing the drawers. And the TV? It was too old. “People want HD flat screens,” the nicer of the two pickup men said. Wife had to turn on the charm and eventually talked them into taking everything.
While talking to the pickup men she learned that nothing is done to the donations; no repairs or cleanup. If they can’t sell it immediately, it gets thrown into a dumpster. She related her experiences in Africa where nothing went to waste. Broken things were mended; everything was reused and very little was wasted. Entire families combed the trash dumps looking for bits of metal or plastic that could be scavenged and resold. The people that she lives and works with in Africa are truly poor - unlike those who are ministered by charities here.
The charities want cash. Why exactly? We donated everything a family of 4 would need except for parishables and the house itself. The In-laws weren’t poor. The were solidly middle class, registered Republicans who donated money to dozens of charities. Yet here we were, begging these same charities to take their stuff.
This experience has made me realize that no matter how often we hear how bad the economy is and how things are the worst they’ve been since the Depression, things can’t be that bad when you have to beg charities to take away solid wood furniture, clothes that were hardly ever worn, and 32” televisions…
But the deed has now been done. 9 months of daily effort over. The house is sold and a new family takes over to bring life into a home that hasn’t seen much over the past year. It’s a solid house – a good house that will provide a home for a couple and their twenty-three month old child; the wife has even referred to it as her “dream house”.
Now it’s time for us to move on.
UPDATE: Thanks to the members of the Watcher’s Council for voting this post the number 1 council post for this week. Given the quality of writing shown by the members I am deeply humbled to receive this honor. Seriously, there is some of the finest writing on the Watcher’s Council that you’ll find anywhere – and I am proud to be a member of such an elite team. – SK