Sunday, July 12, 2009

The Main Character

"The house was always there. It sat as it always had, nestled into a slight hill at the bottom of the long, long hill. Surrounded by a field of cobwebby ivy and tall evergreen trees. It seemed like it would always be there; the last refuge of my family, the one place my sister and I could always go and expect a welcome. It was built by both of my parents; five months pregnant with my sister, my mother had to reluctantly rope herself to the chimney while hammering in nails. At first, it sheltered my entire family; newlyweds to parents, babies to young adults. Over the years, it held the lives, possessions, and mementoes not just of our family, but also the parents and families of our parents, and a few things of their parent’s, too. After my mother’s death in 1990, it became just my father’s house, and our uneasy retreat when we came home from college. It didn’t seem as homely without my mother being there.
In fact, the first Thanksgiving after my mother’s death, Big Sister and I met at the front door after journeying from our respective colleges. We relaxed in the living room for a while, chatting, until we noticed a strange itchy, crawling feeling on our stocking-ed legs. Looking down, we saw little black specks, crawling over the white nylon. Shrieking, we realized that the house was overrun with fleas due to our ancient cat. I have to admit it was the first Thanksgiving I ever spent eating dinner at someone else’s house while flea bombs napalmed our entire house.
This unpleasant state of housekeeping was only the beginning. As my father grew older and descended further and further into early-onset Alzheimer’s, the house became his refuge. In many ways, it sheltered and reflected his psyche. The condition of the house deteriorated shockingly, until it was past repair. My father, falling victim to the hoarding urges of his disease, filled the house even more full with junk and detritus. At one point, it became my residence again when I moved in as his care-giver; but it could never again be my home. After we moved my father to an Assisted Living facility, the house sat alone and untenanted for a year, dreaming quietly away in its ivy bed, while mold and mildew ate away at it.
This is the story of the huge project we undertook in cleaning out the house, and what I learned about my family and my parent‘s lives and dreams; my experiences and observations of Alzheimer’s and how it affected our family; and what happened to me during the three years, and more, that I spent involved in Dad’s life."

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