Saturday, September 18, 2010


For this literal mass of boxes I have yet to unpack, as well as forty or fifty others full of art supplies that need to be organized in the basement storage area so that I can use them again. 

Though rightfully the blame should fall on my mother, and if my sister were here she would whole heartedly agree.   For you see, by the time my sister had flown the coop and was safely nested in her college dorm, I was still at home in junior high, which meant my sister - and only my sister at this stage -  met the required distance from home to begin being an honored recipient of our mother's 'unloading.'

My mother had, in her youth, been a pack rat.  Current television programs picture 'hoarders' in all their glory.   I have had to re -access terms after watching a 'Hoaders Marathon.'  Pack Rats merely pack - the operative word here - sentimental things away when they have no space for said things to be displayed.

After graduating from nursing school and marrying my father, my mother dutifully returned home, packed her things in boxes and began to drag them around with her from state to state, packing and repacking each time my father was transferred. 

By the time my parents decided to start a family and leave my mother in her home town close to relatives, rather than raise 'service brats,' my mother had had it.  She moved into the little house they rented, and decided to leave her precious cargo stacked in boxes in the basement.  One move later these boxes ended up in the house my sister and I would ultimately grow up in.   My mother had not only grown weary of the whole packing thing, but cleaning and dusting as well. Those ole' knick- knacks collect a lot of dust.  But they meant too much for her to simply get rid of them, and my father was still bringing odd things into the house.  Odd as in brass mortar casings he picked up in Pearl Harbor after the attack, that my mother had made into lamps. Or stuff that was stamped 'MADE IN OCCUPIED JAPAN."

 In the meantime their three story barn was filling up with priceless antiques each time an elderly relative passed away.  My mother had no interest in the old mahogany, carved claw- footed, marble topped tables (the mahogany reminded her of coffins), nor the gorgeous dressing tables with three mirrors at angles that enabled Victorian women to see every angle of their appearance before their grand entrance to a party (she didn't wear make-up).  It was simply more stuff to take care of when two kids and a job were enough, and still smoosh in time for reading or movies, tennis, skiing, well, you get the picture.

My sister and I grew up in an environment close to sterile (in our mother's defense, she had cared for polio victims and didn't want us to end up in iron lungs), with two original African feather paintings on the wall in the living room, a calender in the kitchen, and the printed cardboard chart for the fire horn signals in the basement doorway.   Oh, and all those boxes lurking in the basement.

One weekend when my Dad decided to grab me and take a spin to Boston to visit my sister, my mother suddenly said, "Oh, wait just a minute,"  and she slid out of sight.  About an hour later my Dad was tapping his foot in irritation when she finally scrambled up the basement steps with a box.  "I meant to send these to Judi."   So began the tradition of 'Unloading."

Over the course of the next four years she sent so much stuff to my sister that my sister was screaming "UNCLE." So she started on me, and I was still in the same house.  It was no use explaining I had already filled up the shelves my future brother-in-law had built for me with my own stuff, and that my mother's stuff wasn't even leaving the premise at this point. 

 Eventually I would move far away, my sister was even further away, and my parents (for at some crucial pivot point my father became involved in the conspiracy as well) would resort to subjecting the United Postal Service to an onslaught of heavy boxes three or four times a year. My father once taped an ancient sewing machine's wooden case together with duct tape, and trudged down to the P.O. with it, just like that. No box, just the sewing machine that weighed a ton.  Mailed it like that.  The poor mailman who brought it to my house must have lost his mind. He left it in the hallway the day before, it just so happened, that I was taking my much newer, and in working order, sewing machine to the basement.  I went downstairs to get the mail the next day.  I remembered I had left the sewing machine in the hallway, when I saw the mailman carrying it out the door.  I asked him where he was going with my sewing machine.  When he turned he had the weary look of someone who has seen everything - and nothing surprises them anymore -on his face.   "I brought one in yesturday, figured this one was going out today."   Poor guy.

Years later while discussing our decorating and furniture obsessions, my sister would state, "It's Mother's fault we're like this you know.  We grew up in such sparse surroundings we are over compensating."

 I never did seem to tire of packing and unpacking precious stuff, nor finding gorgeous shelving to place said stuff on, until that darn bear...

I keep all my hiking stuff in the car.  More often than not I will see a place by the road where I just want to go tromp through, and I do just that.

And soooo, about five years ago I was out for a Sunday drive. Yes! I still do that.  While passing by a lake directly on my left, just past the guard rails, with fishermen in canoes sitting peacefully out there waiting for a bite, I spied a path on my right, directly up a steep embankment.  I found a patch of dirt a half mile away to leave the car, put on my boots and pack and doubled back to find the path.  It looked steep enough to be a short hike to the top where I'd have a perfect view of the lake. It was, in fact, so steep, while walking up it I felt at more than one point, if I tripped I would have about 18 inches of play before my nose hit the dirt in front of me.

I was a quarter of a mile in when the woods opened up.  To my right was a deep ravine, at the bottom of it's ninety or so foot drop were huge glacial erratics. To my left was a granite wall, with an eleven inch ledge, and no way around.   Off I went onto the ledge. Cracks in the wall I was inching along had all sorts of plants and vines growing out of them.  Mother Nature hates a vacuum.   I was being careful not to get anything in my eyes, so I was staring down at the boulders while hoping I didn't lose my footing and end up in a bloody heap on them.   I was nearing the end of the approximately fifty foot ledge and beginning to heave a sigh of relief when I looked up at the woods beyond and saw what appeared to be the biggest wild turkey in the history of the world straight ahead.  Figured after I got off the ledge I'd root through my pack for my camera...

Only while I was still on the ledge that turkey started making strange snorting noises.  Then to make matters worse, it raised its head, a big black bear head, and started sniffing at the wind.  I should mention at this stage this was only the second time in my entire life I have ever genuinely panicked.  Well, actually, PANICKED. 

Although to me time started to stand still, the whole incident probably took no more than thirty seconds.  I started to switch my feet into a good position to turn on the ledge and quickly head back the other way, and when I began the maneuver, my pack got caught on the ledge, I started to lose my balance and frantically grab for teeny little vines sticking out of the granite wall when suddenly I felt a searing pain in my back that seemed to set both my legs on fire.  Ow. I managed to finish the turn, take one look back in time to see Mr. Large Bear ambling towards the other end of the ledge, while I was shimmying towards the beginning.  When I made it to solid ground again I turned to see the bear at the other end of the ledge. Just staring. At me. Lunch. But was it worth it?   

Getting back to the car was easy. Practically slid the whole way, so steep was the grade. By this time I was concentrating more on my probable massive heart attack than I was the pain in my back.  I called my friend to tell her about my latest adventure while I caught my breath and my heart put itself back where it belonged.
She said, "Oh, did you get a picture?"  

Two days later, after the CAT scan on my back, while staring at the films my orthopedic doctor murmured, "Yah know, you really shouldn't walk alone."   Then he told me I had ruptured a disc, and the only way to fix it without surgery was a long bout of special exercises and a lot of suffering.    I chose the suffering. It's been a tough road since than.  Its hard to get enough extra blood into the spine to enable a disc to heal itself.  One figures out fast in the beginning that walking on tiled cement floors and sitting in hard chairs are the worst things to do.  So most of the time I am OK, until I have a setback.

Moving twice in eighteen months is now on the list of setbacks.  So I'm blaming the bear for the slow-going-unpacking. But I hear my sister whispering in my ear,  "We wouldn't have ended up with so much stuff if it hadn't been for Mother, you know. Over compensate, that's what we did, you know."

I have reinforcement's coming this afternoon to tackle the basement with me.  I really need to find the charger for the camera....  And start another box of stuff to unload mail to my daughter...


  1. Did u mark the outside of the boxes as to what the contents were/are? I did that and it made things so easy... I ended up giving or throwing away stuff after we made our move here 7 yrs. ago..

  2. Why do I think the bear was highly entertained at the spectacle in front of him?

  3. J & K - OK, I can hardly move now, it's 8:30 PM. I had help moving all the boxes around, setting up the large metal shelving unit, piling boxes on it, while still wading around MORE boxes, all the while the ham I bought was slow roasting to feed my reinforcements. Rode to the farm and discovered the raccoons had torn an entire board off the shed, inside the auto feeders were everywhere, empty. I refilled them, propped the board back up and put huge rocks against it to hopefully keep it there. My groaning was probably heard miles away. But yes, I did label all the boxes, and natch its a riot. I was getting really tired of packing the last two weeks... There's a box that says BLACK PAINT FOR FURNITURE TOUCH UP IN HERE, then another that claims BLACK PAINT FOR FURNITURE TOUCH UP REALLY IN HERE. I don't even remember doing that. Its just a question of getting it all in one section, so that my son's stuff is in the other section. He can finish building his twelve foot wing-span gas powered remote control plane, and I can do my projects. I have been taking pictures, I just didn't label in detail enough to figure out where the charger cord to the camera is.......

    J- Um yuh, the darn bear had more of a , er, quizzical look on his enormous, black face.... sort of like the look my cats have when I crash into a doorway - a family trait we never admitted to, mainly because we never figured out why we all did it, sure walking from room to room is a cinch, to most people... - but I was so panicked all I could see was LUNCH in his eyes. I realized afterward he never would have been able to make the ledge, but he may have had a shortcut... I did join in my girlfriends hysterical outburst after she asked me if I gotten a picture. All I could think of was the time I was trying to take a picture of me at the top of somewhere. I set the camera up on the timer, which was only a ten second delay, and kept trying to rush to the edge of the cliff and pose before the thing went off. Its the most hysterical set of a blurred foot, part of a leg with a knee, one half expects the last in the series to be feet going over the edge.

    The coup de grace' was the very next day after the bear and the back incident, a huge black bear ambled into town. My neighbor called to tell me she heard on the scanner it was two streets away... probably looking for LUNCH. There was an article in the local paper the day after that outlining the locations the bear had been spotted, a suspiciously circuitos route around the house I was living in.

    And just in case anyone is wondering, I did check into buying some 'Bear-Bangers,' but when I found out they are heavy duty explosives and one has to apply for a federal fire-arms permit from ATF, I figured I'd probably blow myself up and it would be easier to just get the can of air crowds use at big football games. It was, er, somewhere in my pack.....

  4. My panic was rising with yours! Great story.

    My mother did what I called Gift Crapping. She stored things up and delivered them in boxes, like your mother--only she had just the one child. My parents died years ago, but there's a corner of the garage that I just have not been able to face--the corner with the boxes of things that belonged to them, the ones I just couldn't bring myself to get rid of.

  5. Wow! You have so much to do. I have to tell you that your blog post was great and your response to your comments are better than a lot of posts I've read today...

  6. In Oregon people have garages to store all their crap, the cars sit out in the rain and rust. I heard that those self-storage places are the largest growing segment of real estate in the country.

    My wife was backpacking with her previous husband when she got tired and wanted to rest. He didn't so he kept trucking on. While she was regrouping she heard a sound in the bushes.. out comes a huge bear. She grabbed her pack and rediscovered her energy, quickly catching up to her husband. When she breathlessly caught up to him she said a bear had almost gotten her.

    He looked back and saw this little black dot in the distance and said: "Hell, it's way far away from you". She indignantly replied, "... well it is NOW!!".