I grew up in a household where money was always tight. One time, when I was about 12, I remember needing shoes, and when I asked my father for money to buy them, he freaked out and said he was going to leave home. I vowed never to ask him for money again.
I moved out of the family home in 1978, when I graduated college at the tender age of 20. About 10 minutes after I left, my father started making money in the bar business. He finally found the right location for his clientele and started earning a great living.
1984 was the year Dad landed in the hospital for coronary by-pass surgery. He was 56, an obese heavy smoker and drinker. The zipper in his chest persuaded him to give up the cigarettes and go easy on the booze. He couldn’t quite give up the over-eating or embrace physical fitness, but he did the best he could.
Dad also realized he had a second chance to be a better husband to his wife, and to let loose and spend some of the assets he had acquired. Since I went to school on scholarship and my brother didn’t care much for college, they felt free to spend their discretionary dollars on all kinds of stuff for themselves.
In the late ’80’s, my parents bought two properties; a three bedroom house on Barnegat Bay in south Jersey and a two bedroom condo on the Intracoastal in southeast Florida. They sold their house in Brooklyn and split their time between NJ and FL. Eventually, the “snow bird” life became a little too demanding as they preferred to spend more of their time in the tropical weather. They sold the house in south Jersey and went full time in Florida.
The combined detritus they acquired wound up in the capacious closets of their Florida apartment. They filled every available cubic inch with stuff, from clothes and shoes to tools, electronics, bric-a-brac and “artwork.” They didn’t throw or give anything away. They didn’t have to. They had storage space and a depression mentality that said “keep it just in case.”
When Dad died, Mom reluctantly gave his clothes to charity. But she gradually took over his huge clothes closet and filled it with more clothing and shoes of her own. Her weekly jaunts to TJ Maxx provided her with entertainment and the joy of finding blouses for 23 cents, in 5 different colors.
Mom’s girlfriends in the building found her shopping habits rather astonishing. One friend had advised her to start paring down her belongings so as not to leave the chore to her kids. I wish she had taken that advice.
So last week, having had the incredible good fortune of finding a buyer for their apartment after one day on the market, I had a great offer. They even bought the furniture. But they certainly didn’t want all the STUFF. The overwhelming task fell to, you guessed, her child.
Wait a minute, Tracey, you have a brother, don’t you? Yes, I do. And when I told him of the sale, and the great price, and the quickness of the closing, he was mightily impressed and insisted on coming down to help. He knew what was involved. He’d seen the inside of those stuffed caverns for himself. “Overwhelming” is an understatement.
I also have a husband. And by coincidence, he was asked to play a gig with a band on April 30, right around the proposed closing date. He would come down to help, but he would have to leave Wednesday.
Problems arose as the closing date drew near. The mortgage on the place had to be settled. Settled? The mortgage had been paid off years ago. Unfortunately, this was never recorded with the county on the deed. I had to find the proof of the loan’s satisfaction. The broker had checked my parent’s file cabinet for me, but found nothing. I had a hunch and a key to a safe deposit box. I was flying down Monday afternoon. The closing was Friday afternoon.
The Friday before, I hadn’t heard from my brother so I sent him a text message. I told him we were taking Mom out for lunch on Easter Sunday and he was welcome to join us. And would we being seeing him in Florida next week?
In a word, “NO.” He hemmed and hawed and texted me that he had to be in Guatemala Monday. Then Nicaragua. Maybe he could come via Mexico City next Saturday (the day after the closing).
I told him I’d handle it.
Bob and I flew down and went straight to the apartment. I checked all the files. Nada. Then I went to the big leatherette portfolio full of crap in the closet. Grandparent death certificates. Mom’s elementary school graduation diploma. Receipts for their artwork. Formica samples. And then, finally, “Satisfaction of Mortgage” documents from 1991. Hooray! Let’s get hammered! (I found out a couple of days later that the safe deposit box key in my possession was for a box my mother had closed out in 2005).
I had decided that I would not stay in the apartment. It was dusty and depressing and I wanted someone to feed and clean up after me. So I got a great deal on a stay at the Diplomat. King bed, ocean view, balcony, valet parking, minibar, the works. We had room service the first night and rested up for the horrors to come.
The gal who runs the condo office was on vacation, and the woman who filled in for her was a tenant who knew a little about how to get things done. When I got into the apartment, I was confronted with a huge hole cut in the second bathroom wall. I had known they were doing the work, but I had been assured they would repair it. Four days until closing; I couldn’t sell the place this way.
A maintenance man was found and he came up to fix the hole. He did a splendid job. Bob and I told him to take any tools he wanted from my Dad’s cache. The janitor came up and we told her she could take stuff too. Bless her, she took a lot and came back the next day for seconds.
We started clearing out the closets, drawers and cabinets. Bob and I filled over 50 black plastic trash bags with clothes, shoes and household items. We filled the Grand Cherokee and brought the stuff to Goodwill. In the ensuing days, Bob made four more trips to the Goodwill Store.
I donated Dad’s computer, printer and all the software, paper and ink to a charity that trains veterans.
We had to pry the stereo equipment out of the cabinet in which it sat. Something had spilled in there years ago and fused the feet to the shelf.
I bubbled wrapped and boxed framed pictures and “tschotskes” for Mom (and found the shawls she wanted and used them as filler too). I grabbed important papers and selected some tools and items that might be useful for us. I gathered old financial documents and boxed them for shredding. I got the guy who sold the artwork to my folks to come by and work a consignment deal. (He made me a cash offer, took a statue without paying for it and then reneged on his offer the next day. I retrieved the statue from him before leaving and had it shipped to my home. I could do nothing about the wall hangings; they were simply too large.)
Wednesday afternoon, I had to take Bob to the airport. Wednesday evening, the cleaning guy I hired arrived with his helper. Lovely, hard-working people who speak Portuguese, it took me a while to explain in fractured Spanish that they could take stuff for themselves. We threw a lot of stuff down the trash chute. I worked past midnight with them. We made a great deal of headway.
Thursday morning, a car was parked illegally in my spot and I went to the condo office. The gal who runs the office was back from vacation and after greeting me warmly, asked if I’d been throwing out garbage last night after 10 pm. I said yes, and she told me I was going to be fined $100. I said I’d write a check after she got my parking space vacated. She gave me the number of the towing company, I called them and they told me the office had to call them. So I called her, she called them, the tow truck was on the way. Don’t you just love streamlined efficiency?
I had to get my mother’s huge treadmill out of the bedroom. There was a guy who had come the night before and said he would come back for it. I called him and he said he’d call back. I called the office to check on another matter, mentioned the treadmill and the office manager asked if she could have it. (Bob said I should have demanded $100 from her). I said yes, she sent the maintenance guys, and an hour later, after taking doors off hinges and humping the thing hither and yon, the beast was removed from the apartment.
I brought the old financial documents to be shredded. Then I went to the spa at the resort for my massage. I finally got someone to take care of me. This wasn’t a luxury; it was a necessity. And it was the best massage of my life so far. I slept pretty well that night.
Friday morning, I checked out of the hotel, filled the truck with gas, dealt with the statue, and then went to the apartment for one last look around. Everything looked good. Then I opened the dishwasher.
In the basket, there was a load of old bottle brushes, spatulas and assorted kitchen crap. I took it to the chute. Looking at the pieces, I did find one treasure: a steel jar opener that is no longer manufactured. It still works. It is now mine.
The walk-through and closing went fine. I got kudos on locating the satisfaction of mortgage and walked out with a great big check. I deposited it in Mom’s account on the way to the airport.
My flight was delayed about 45 minutes, but I had a nice meal at the airport while I waited and decompressed. We landed about 15 minutes late and Bob was there to meet me.
The icing on this cake was my brother’s response. Clearly afraid to talk to me, he sent texts. While I was cleaning the apartment on Wednesday night: “How’s it going?” My reply: “Still cleaning.” “Sorry!” Oh, how helpful.
Saturday, another text: “How’d it go? Just got home.” My reply “DONE”.
Rather than try to deal with this as a text dialogue, I sent him a letter. He hates my letters. They make him read. They make him think. And he can’t just fire back.
“Going forward, I will take care of Mom’s expenses and health care. Visit her regularly. When the boxes arrive from Florida, help her deal with the contents.
When she dies, you will be responsible for dealing with the contents of her apartment.
He called me on the way home from work Tuesday night. “How’d it go?” I told him coldly it was a horror, that I didn’t care to go into it, but it was done. We closed. Money’s in the bank.
How was Guatemala? Didn’t go well.
“Have you spoken to Mom?” Saw her today. “How is she?” Seems fine.
Then he got home and saw my letter. He replied with an email:
“Sorry you had to deal with all this shit.
You volunteered to bring mom in to your house Perhaps having a boarder that would contribute to your nut was appealing to you.
No one twisted your arm.
I had full intentions of meeting you in Florida. Unfortunately and fortunately this once in a life time opportunity with *NAME-CENSORED* surfaced at an in opportune time. I desperately needed to close this deal. You don’t know the pressure of taking care of a family. Just your fucking cats!!
Closings can be put off, but when Tracey decides its time, its time.
I dont need you to tell me to visit my mother. When she dies, I will do what i can.
Fuck you and your letters!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”
As usual, he screws up, it’s somehow my fault and I was motivated by money.
That’s gratitude for you.
Farewell to Florida. Farewell to my selfish coward of a brother. May karma work its wonders as I move forward and start taking better care of my husband, my (neutered) cats and me. And no one’s twisting my arm.