Stories from the Hippo

Personal stories of parenting, mental health and other musings


On the way to my doctor’s appointment this morning, I drove past a block of land for sale. Only about two or three streets away from our humble abode, it has been on sale for the last few months. Looking at it now it is overridden with weeds about a metre high, the ‘For Sale’ signage hardly visible. It suddenly reminded me of how our own minds, and sometimes lives, can become a bit unkempt and overlooked. How it sometimes becomes an effort to maintain and keep on top of our game.

Further to this analogy, my mother and her remaining living siblings, are sorting through and cleaning up my late grandfather’s deceased estate. The eldest of five children, with one brother (once my uncle) no longer with us, my mother was regaling her day to me and explaining how she had been clearing my grandfathers’ backyard. Together with her other brother, and two family friends, they spent half their weekend pulling out weeds as high, if not higher, than their own knees.

To fully appreciate such extraneous work, one needs to imagine four people over the age of sixty-five and into their early seventies, all with various ailments (including knee reconstructions and only partly successful cataract surgery). All of them bending over at the waist and/or crouched low on the ground performing labour intensive tasks. Obviously I queried if this was absolutely necessary work. The response was swift with stubborn overtones, yet it made sense. Now that it was spring in Perth, our hot summers would arrive shortly thereafter. Despite the absence of my grandfather, the practicalities of life still endured. His property was fast becoming a fire hazard.

It’s only now, a few days later, that I realise my error in how I had phrased my concern. Instead, I perhaps could have reworded it as: Is it absolutely necessary that all of you perform these tasks? Could you not delegate paid work to a professional and pay the fee out of the estate? Understandably, it would have incurred a high financial cost to them, but it would have saved them so much backbreaking work. Surely. Nonetheless, it is not my business to interfere. After all, historical data in our family line shows that the stubborn trait sometimes overrides any sort of gentle coaxing or advice given… Especially when it comes from the ‘younger’ generation.

My grandfather has left behind him a very big clean up job for family to address. A part of his ‘informal’ legacy if you like. No disrespect. In particular, his accumulation of things. Stuff. Some junk. Some not. I would like to point out here that I do not use the word ‘accumulation’ very lightly. The whole and honest truth is that my grandfather was a hoarder, just one description amongst many that could be made  about him.

According to my genetic calculations – I fall into the second generation hoarder category. Yes, alas, I too have hoarder tendencies. I am, after all, my mother’s daughter. Although I have worked hard at trying to curb it over the years, it is still scarily evident in my own collection of ‘things’. Which reminds me, I am due for another purge.

To provide a description of his ‘things’: a pantry overstocked with expired food items; boxes of cassette tapes with copied music, mostly religious; religious paraphernalia of different sorts from prayer books and cards to holy medals that had been blessed by a Roman Catholic priest at some time or other. To name but a few. Not to mention an old tin shed out the back of the property containing an assortment of boxes with my mothers’ things.

Unfortunately, my mother is also a hoarding offender from way back. When she moved house in recent weeks (right next door to us to be precise), we had been walking through her then rental from room to room with me asking: “Are you sure there isn’t anything else you can throw out?”. Man, did I feel like such a hypocrite! You know, from one hoarder to another and all that. How could I ask her such a question? Sigh… My mother had assured me at the time that she had already, believe it or not, let go of a lot of things. Although I didn’t say anything to her at the time, my facial expression might have shown the doubt I felt at her admission. Had she really thrown anything out at all? There was still so much…stuff!

Her lounge area, in her now cosy three bedroom rental, contains a few too many single and mismatched chairs. She hasn’t owned a sofa or couch for some years. Why? Apparently because it lightened the load of carting around too much stuff from one rental to another. Hmmm… The master bedroom looks like a master bedroom should. Take one look at the other two bedrooms and the same cannot be said. One room allocated by her for sewing purposes and prayer, with the other as a ‘spare’ room for junk and my eastern-states visiting sister once or twice a year. At present, both rooms are almost full with boxes of… Well, to be honest, I really don’t want to think about it.

The moral of this story? Metaphorically speaking: try clearing out the weeds in a timely manner. Do it now – before you realise that it’s too late to mow the lawn. Why? Because pulling weeds is back breaking work!


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