Cleaning House

Chase’s things at Warsaw:

-Stacks and stacks of old magazines, New Yorker magazines, National Geographics, art magazines, old newspapers, an archive of junk in stacks and stacks around his dining room.

-I would drink half a bottle of red wine at dinner, lie down on the fainting chair and thumb through last year’s New Yorker, only to find something fantastic that I had missed before.

-An easel in the living room with an open can of kerosene next to it, a palette caked with oils.

-Two swords from the Civil War. Four guns.

-A vast library of art books, biographies, a mountain of VHS tapes, DVD players stacked one on top of the other.

-Stacks of underwear, pajama pants and wrinkly shirts thrown together in a mound on the upstairs landing.

-Paintings, everywhere, stacked against the wall. Landscapes and portraits and self-portraits, each one a discovery.

-A framed Dali sketch, a DaVinci reproduction. A Confederate flag.

-Broken lamps. Every single lamp in that house was broken. You would turn on the switch and nothing happened.

-A tall secretary in the formal parlor with old letters, postcards, historical documents and random bills spilling out of it. One afternoon Chase said, “I found something.” And he read a letter that his brother had written to their mother during World War II. Before he died at sea. It was a beautiful letter, funny, where he talked about girls and picnic parties and flirting. Chase’s brother came alive with us in that room, when before I had only heard stories about him, as the brother who died in the War. The brother my husband was named after, Frank, and that he bears an uncanny resemblance to.

-Hundreds of CDS, opera and classical, all out of their cases, exploding from the antique chest that held the stereo. It looked like the chest had vomited CDs all over the orange corduroy couch in front of it.

-An oar. Fishing poles propped against the wall in the main hall.

-Three masks of a zebra, a giraffe and a Japanese girl the kids and I always wear to freak ourselves out.

-A pantry filled with garbage and a terrible smell. I was afraid to go in there. It was dark and something rustled.

-Corners with mouse carcasses.

The good and the bad. That whole house filled with mystery, at least to me. All the treasures of Chase’s personality. Most of it, junk. But still, interesting junk.

Then Chase almost died and they got him a private room at the Veteran’s Care Center. And my brother-in-law William spent the whole summer cleaning it out so he could list the house for sale.

He had garbage can containers delivered and filled them up. He filled them with the magazines and broken chairs and broken lamps. With rotting newspapers and moth-eaten sheets. Anything that was broken or useless or pointless, which was almost everything. He boxed up the CDs and the blue Canton china. He rolled up the rotting rug and threw it away.

He almost got bit by a snake. He cut his leg. He went to the ER and got stitches. He got up again the next morning and went to work again.

He spent a month doing this. From morning until night, every day. He stripped the house that I wanted clean.

The house is child proofed, for the first time. I can let the kids out of my sight for more than a minute and not panic that they will pull a random hatchet off a surface and chop off their foot or drink an open container of kerosene.

The house is tasteful and stripped clean of all Chase’s eccentricities. Everything edited down, cleaned, tossed, for a proper showing.

My brother-in-law worked hard. He did a Herculean job, all by himself. And I didn’t help. He saved us hundreds of dollars, perhaps thousands.

But the mystery is gone for me now. The mystique. The sense of discovery, in all that mess. The treasure in the pile of junk.

All my dreams have been sucked out of it.

Someone with money can come in and make it beautiful again. But that someone won’t be us. I think I finally feel about it the way that my husband has felt all this time.

The house is the past for me now, when I thought, for such a long time, that it was the future.

But someone else will think it’s beautiful. If you saw it, you would think it was beautiful too.

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