I love my grandmother. She is a mixture of a gambler, Carol Burnett, a ‘50s schoolgirl, and her sister (a 73-year-old cougar who, after delivering “dirty magazines” to gas stations for decades, now resides in an un-air-conditioned trailer near Tucson). My grandmother embraces kookiness, but denies that she is crazy. She has talked herself into believing that her emphysema is “just a cold,” and she eagerly combines purple pants with red sweaters (and, no, she is not a member of the Red Hat Society). She chain-smokes, loves Charlie Rose, and “knows” that “that Facebook” is “making the world go to pot.”
Before she was seventy, our physical similarities were striking—my bones mimic hers to a point that, seven years ago, a waitress at the Ameristar Casino remarked that we looked very much alike. Her positive attributes reach beyond her now-aged body; the irrevocable and equal love she has for each of her twelve grandchildren is quite remarkable. However, she has one terrible, awful, habit (in addition to smoking a pack a day, that is): my grandmother is a hoarder.
She’s not a scatter hoarder, unlike squirrels. If she was, I’m sure that many a tree and plant would be able to sufficiently spread their population through her mountainous caches of collections.
No, she is not a scatter hoarder. She’s not even a perceptive hoarder—one that assumes a shortage may occur in the future. Mormons do this. Well, certain Mormons, anyway. But their hoarding is more of a natural process—one that involves the careful building of a resource that may be of great use some day, especially if a sudden spurt of civil unrest occurs.
No, my grandmother is not a scatter hoarder. She’s not even a larder hoarder. She doesn’t believe in a healthy (and eventually useful) cache of items.
For instance, I have amassed quite a collection of Bath & Body Works products. There is a cardboard box in my closet that houses numerous shower gels, hand soaps, body lotions, body creams, loofahs, hand sanitizers. One could say that I hoard such products. However, the products are of use: I gradually work my way through gels and sponges and smells and scents after every Christmas, slowly depleting my stores. By the time Thanksgiving rolls around, my choices have narrowed: to moisturize my dry skin, I am forced to use Dew-Kissed Raspberry Freesia or some other illogically named odor, like Magic Powder Peacock.
Grandmother (which is what I call her when I am acerbically describing her unpleasant habits) would probably find my collection too small. She would wonder why I do not acquire greasy bottles of unmixed emulsion from the dollar store. She would ask if I would prefer to use a cracked, potpourri-scented bar of soap that she “inherited” from her mother, who died ten years ago.
No, Grandmother. No. I do not wish to be the recipient of your bags of “stuff,” as you call it.
“Stuff” is the generic name for the old and unusable objects that Grandmother thinks we (her children and grandchildren) need. She routinely shoves objects from around her house—Tupperware, old socks, shoes, children’s gloves, hideous jewelry, cedar shoe trees, calculators with dead batteries—into plastic sacks and delivers them to our homes. We regretfully open the sacks in front her, the stench of Pall Malls filling our nostrils. Though each member of our family handles the bags of “stuff” differently, my mother and I unwillingly accept them, automatically collecting the entire pile and setting it in a box that may as well be labeled “Goodwill Donations.”
If my grandma knew that the objects she presented us immediately ended up in Goodwill (which is, honestly, where she purchased them to begin with), she would—in all seriousness—return to the store and re-purchase them.
It’s a hideous process, the bags of “stuff.”
Just a few days before Christmas, she stopped at our front door with three bags of “stuff”—one for mom, one for my brother, one for me. I do not remember the majority of the items, but our conversation went something like this.
“Do you need a tarp?” she nearly shouted as soon as she entered the living room.
Mom and I looked at each other. “No,” she said. “I use an actual blanket on my car.”
“Well, here’s a tarp for you to use instead,” my grandmother instructed.
“We don’t need a tarp, mom,” my mother insisted.
“Then Keith can have it!” my grandmother exclaimed. “He needs a tarp.”
My mom had already begun sifting through the sack labeled Keith. As always, the bag spewed out a vomitrocious scent of Pall Malls—something that Bath & Body Works might call Sparkling Cigarette Dreams.
“What is this?” my mother urgently questioned, pulling out a bag of snacks that resembled cat treats.
“Those are...” my grandmother started. “Well, to my son, who eats all those sunflower seeds, it looks like bird seed.”
“And that is any more edible for humans to eat?”
My grandmother ignored my mother, who looked at me and shook her head. We were standing on opposite sides of the couch, with my grandma between us. As the eldest of our family rustled through “stuff,” we were able to look up at each other and give awkward, nearly-laughable looks to each other.
“This is for you,” my grandma said, handing me the cedar shoe-trees.
“Umm, okay,” I said blatantly.
My grandma bent down again. I raised the shoe-trees to my head, mockingly hitting my forehead with them. “Why?” I mouthed. “I don’t know,” my mother mouthed back, her forehead wrinkled and mouth agape with hilarious confusion.
“And these are for you. You like pears.”
“I do?” The four-pack of pear chunks had been tossed into my lap.
“Of course you do. You loved pears when you were in elementary.”
“And now I’m in college.” I slowly, but bluntly reminded her. My mother giggled.
“Yes. You still like pears.”