Tag Archives: grandmother

ungrateful

Although I’m committed to the goals of the Children of Hoarders support group, I sometimes look away for long periods of time. Reading the experiences of others makes me feel somehow guilty for publicly complaining about my situation when others have had it so severely worse. Then the feeling that I am entirely ungrateful for my upbringing suddenly popped into my head about two days ago. Am I only looking for yet another way to talk about the ways in which my parents failed to nurture me? Can they ever do anything right? It’s like a revolving door and I can’t step out.

My father had clear hoarding tendencies while I was growing up. I’ve also written about my paternal Grandfather, collector of treasures, my maternal Grandmother, survivor of the Depression who throws nothing useful out, and my own tendencies to cling to objects that remind me of past travels, experiences or people. But my father’s hoarding, as far as I know, has only shut off two rooms and a garage. The family can still sit on the couch, I presume. I say that, but I am not certain. Maybe they clean for days ahead of our visits to clear those coveted surfaces for us. While some children are literally trapped in horrid living conditions, my main area of suffering was from neglect. Things were and are always more important than I am, if not in word at least in deed.

A few days ago, I finally wrote to my father to tell him of our holiday travel plans and to ask if we could come by the house for a day or two. We cannot invite them to our home because it is rented to friends. However, we are renting a vacation home and I am very late at asking if they want to visit us there. Late and hesitant. I could sense the tone in their response that they (step-mother and HP) were upset they had not been made a priority. My father couldn’t even be bothered to answer me himself and has stopped talking to me during our constant Scrabble games online. I shouldn’t expect them to feel any other way: their visits are never easy for us, but I haven’t seen them in a year and a half.

Rambling back to the point: I wonder if I am ungrateful. Look at me: I’ve got problems, but I’ve turned out ok. Did they really do me wrong? The more I read other people’s stories of abuse, however, I feel more and more resentful. And they are not even doing something to me now.

Lately, I feel resentful because my husband’s parents are equally far from us and yet they have maintained a constant relationship with our daughter. She knows who they are, she visually recognizes them, she talks with them on Skype almost weekly. My own parents (both the HP and my mother) cannot bother to write an email much less learn how to Skype or pick up a telephone to talk to me or S. She asked me who Grandpa S. was the other day and I could only get her to remember by talking about his dog. His dog who is the clear #2 priority in his life.

The unclarity in my head at the moment is probably very legible here. I feel guilty for not inviting them, for feeling ungrateful. I wasn’t really that abused, just a little abused and very neglected. And I feel anger. Real anger and frustration that they expect me to be chasing after their attention when I know I will never compare to stuff.

Being less worthy than stuff was discussed in depth on the HuffPost Live webcast “Hoarding’s Harsh Reality” last week. I am grateful to those who are willing to share publicly and to Sidney for being an advocate for the victims of hoarding. We need one, especially those of us who can’t even decide how we really feel.

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hoarding ancestors

I keep watching the not-so-inspiring episodes of Who Do You Think You Are as I grow my family tree on Ancestry.com, and this week I was treated to Gwyneth Paltrow calling a great-grandmother a hoarder. It is all the rage, after all, to talk about hoarding. Like many hoarders, this relative suffered a double loss of mom and brother in a short period of time and her college education started to fall apart. Paltrow’s grandfather apparently often said that while growing up his house was not a home and that he and his siblings were sent home from school for being dirty, and so on. His mom just didn’t take good care of him.

Paltrow, like many celebrities featured on this show, had a curiosity to understand the genealogy of mental illness, instability, or other past traumas that the family doesn’t like to talk about. She commented that it’s so hard to know what’s true, even when your family members tell you with some level of certainty about the past.

D.’s mom sent me a class project on family history that D. completed in the 1970s with some nifty details written out by his teenage hand. As I entered these “facts” into Ancestry.com, though, I picked up misspelled names and mistaken roots. A few of my queries came to the same dead-ends as his own family search some thirty years ago. These details, even the recorded ones in the archives, are never fully trustworthy. Names get changed, misspelled, ages mistaken, locations shifted, and names of locations change throughout time as well. It’s a little blurrier the further back we go, and while we can trace the family lineage back through the generations, I somehow do not feel any more certain that this is really who we are or where we come from.

long lineage

During our trip to visit my extended family over the past few days, many stories about the hoarders in our family were recounted. It almost made me feel proud that my tendencies are so restrained in comparison. As I posted yesterday, my grandmother is not at all ashamed of her tendency to keep things and to get things for free. She lived through the Great Depression and it was engrained in her, “waste not, want not.” (On a side note– in a difficult moment, she offered me more handmade dish towels that I had to decline.)

In addition to my grandmother, though, I heard stories about her sister Bea and her closets full of collectibles. She had a family free-for-all when she moved into a smaller condo. Everyone was invited to come through the farm-house and take whatever antiques they desired, especially enamel dishes, wooden ironing boards, and old utensils.

My aunt was looking for a moment of solitude over the weekend when she could sneak piles of my  uncle’s things out of the house. Their house, in my view, is quite clean and under control. She said her method is to put unused things in a box. Then if six months have passed and she hasn’t looked in the box, she gets rid of the box. Even she has created coping mechanisms to deal with the clutter.

not my clutter

I think, as I digest all of this, that keeping things is sort of a normal human compulsion. We all accumulate things whether we like to or not. The problem arises for some of us when the anxiety of letting go becomes too great. I tried to explain to D. the other night what a big deal this really is to me. I never realized I had any type of problem with “stuff” until I started writing about it. Now that I’ve had several little breakdowns when asked to throw things out, I know there is a compulsion to hoard at work within me. If I were left alone (and indeed, when I did live alone), I would live in piles of clutter that would get cleaned up only when company was expected. I feel virtuous now for what I’ve been able to shed, and anguished when told it isn’t enough. I know I can live well and fine without my things, but confronting their absence is a constant and difficult battle for me.

just talk to me

I mentioned to my extended family yesterday that my next project would be on hoarding. “You want to know about hoarding?” my grandmother asked. “Just talk to me. I don’t throw nothing away!”

I brought her several skeins of yarn and an unfinished poorly executed afghan project that had been languishing in my basement since 2002. I am terrible at beginning crafts that always seem like a good idea, and then abandoning them. I’ve learned (finally) that I should only do projects I can complete in a day.

christmas hoarding

Among my box of Christmas decorations that gets hauled out every year are ornaments that have been inherited from my Grandmother, soon to be 88 years old. This year I actually opened an envelope that said something about a living will for a person I’ve never heard of. Inside the envelope: a flimsy cardboard crèche scene that I managed to throw in the recycling. There was also a never-opened “card-hanging string set” dating from 1964. I had no idea what it was until D. opened the package. Unopened since 1964, kept in an envelope for at least the last 12 years, and my non-hoarding husband had no trouble ripping open the package and setting the contents free.

We laughed about it and threw it out, but it nagged at me for a moment. Wait! That could have been valuable to someone, new in the package. It’s an antique. Ummm… yes, but a useless one, passed on from my hoarding inclined maternal grandmother.

roots in hoarding, hoarding treasure

D. and I were talking about this blog last week and something in our conversation reminded me of my grandfather. I’ve been trying to get at the root of this impulse to hoard, and I’ve only looked back to my father. When I mentioned my grandfather, however, I realized this may have been passed down the genealogy chart.

Family lore has it that my grandfather was a welder, trash collector, and jack of all trades. For example, he designed and built this groovy octagon shaped work shed and landscaped their terraced yard with little treasures all the way down to the lake. My memories of my grandfather are old and vague and really kind of magical, although no one ever told me he was much of an enchanting person.

On my desk in front of me as I type is a tiny cardboard square envelope that has been taped together. It makes me sad to look at it because it contains the tiniest penny I’ve ever seen, but it also used to contain my grandpa’s trick penny. That penny was given to me when he died, and I lost it sometime in college during a move. That absence tugs at my heart and makes me want to lose the cardboard that he fashioned as well.

Back to what I remember of my grandpa, though … he was a collector. From his years of trash collecting and using his metal detector, he had boxes of treasures. I don’t remember his house being particularly cluttered or untidy, but my grandmother is said to have been a very neat housekeeper. When she passed away, I believe things changed. I recall visiting his house after he had died to prepare for the auction. It was then that I got to choose what I wanted to keep, and along with the yellow towels and copper-bottom pots and pans that I would need for college, I took some of my grandma’s jewelry and photos of the couple when they were young. I do not know what happened to his elephant collection or his antique irons that used to sit by the fireplace … that is, if they existed and my memory is not inventing stuff.

My father has gone on to collect items he believes have value: hidden treasures in his house. He has a metal detector attaching him back to his father, and when I saw him in our yard with it two years ago, I could only think of him and my grandfather many years before going over our old yard (built on a former landfill), searching for treasure. Treasure in someone else’s garden. Treasure in my memory. But now empty trash here as I look at the only items remaining from Grandpa Herb.