When we got off the bus, we started walking the five short blocks to my parents' house. First came the fishy, low tide smell. It is EVERYWHERE. All the mud reeks of it. Who knows if anyone will be able to get their lawns to grow in the spring with all the salt water that came to visit? Then came the roar of the generators. Holy fuck those things are loud.
Weekend #1 was dedicated to the basement, more appropriately called, "Oh Dear God, that basement." It was the sort of thing that haunts your nightmares, even if you've only seen it once. My parents would head off on summer road trips and I'd fear that they'd bicker themselves into a fatal accident, leaving me to deal with The Basement. Rather than describe The Basement, let me just show you how much trash we'd put out at the end of Day One. (The Basement took almost two full days to empty, with hired help.)
And here's a shot of the trash pile from the other end (by the utility pole). Those wee tiny people in the picture are HA, Aunt Bea and my parents. Please note that they are all normal people sized, and not tiny enough to all fit in your pocket together, so that should giv eyou an idea of the scale of this trash pile.
And what was in this pile, you ask? More than forty years of crap. Remarkable considering they've only lived there for a little over thirty. But we brought a bunch of stuff with us when we moved in. Including the junk my Dad's parents left behind when they sold us their house and moved to a retirement condo in Florida.
Why didn't we sort through it some time in the past thirty years? Well, the day we moved in, my Dad walked down the block to have a look around. On the corner, he discovered the volunteer fire department and ambulance squad. He came home declaring "I'm going to be a dispatcher," and it all kind of snowballed from there and kept both parents busy for the next couple of decades.
Over the years, my Dad has been blamed for state of The Basement, mostly due to his habit of "putting things in the basement" by hurling them on top of the heap of stuff so that anyone trying to sort through the mess was also playing a very large game of Jenga.
And then they had to face my parents when trying to throw anything out. At one point in the nineties, my brother and I tried to get rid of a pair of metal ski boots. My Mom wasn't having any of it because they belonged to my Dad and were perfectly fine. Except that they hadn't skied in decades and no one uses metal ski bots anymore, so they wouldn't be able to find any skis with compatible bindings, but OK, we kept them. Shortly thereafter, Dad tried them on in preparation for a ski trip with some relatives. They didn't fit anymore. (I know. You're totally shocked.) So they donated them to the Salvation Army so that someone else could get some use out of them. As hipster bookends, I'm sure.
But still, my mother isn't a pack rat. It's all him. Just ask her.
But then we found what I call The Telltale Hair Dryer. Behold, this little blue suitcase holds a hair dryer from the 1960s. The kind with a long hose and cap you put over your head. A-ha! Even Mom couldn't deny that it was hers. She just lamented the impossibility of throwing it out all these years because she'd never been able to work her way that far back into the mess to find it.
Imagine how overjoyed my Dad was when he finally got to share the blame. Yeah, no, he totally wasn't. He was all, "You see, you keep the old hair dryer around for when the pipes freeze, so you're not heating them up with the new hair dryer and ruining it." He further explained that the old fashioned hair dryers were the best for this because he cut off the hair cap part and stuck the hose right into the frozen pipe.
Not that he'd been able to use this particular hair dryer in the past thirty years because it was buried under all the stuff that was in those bags.
If your brain hurts now, you can understand why my brother lives way the Hell over in another part of the country.
We were able to save some sentimental things, including photos. My childhood dollhouse didn't make it. In fact, it's like having a little water-damaged house of my own. There's even a miniature electrical system that's probably all messed up from the saltwater. Oh well.
My Aunt Bea was lobbying for us to throw out one or both of the punch bowls we unearthed, but I figured that we should save them and start using them. It's a good thing we kept them, because the first thing my Dad asked at the end of the day, after being off getting gas and keeping his hoarder self away from the sorting was, "Did you find both punch bowls?"
The worst was the Christmas ornaments. Completely waterlogged. Plastic totes and ziptop bags were no match for the flood. My mother and I would open a big plastic tub and reminisce over the ornaments as we threw them out. We were able to save some. There's one of Winkin, Blinkin and Nod in a boat, only Nod didn't make it. He got detached and probably thrown out. Poor little guy.
I gotta tell you, my Mom kicked The Basement's Ass. She really showed Sandy who's boss. If you had to throw out paint by numbers Christmas ornaments you made with your kids, would you do without cursing the storm gods at the top of your lungs? Could you throw out their baby clothes without taking to your bed for the rest of the day? She kept going until the job was done. She knew they weren't the worst hit in the neighborhood, and that this wasn't the worst thing that's ever happened to her.
As for Dad, I'm just glad that we kept both punch bowls. That could've turned ugly.
And now Mom gets to turn the basement into a rec room like she's been planning for thirty years. Which means that there will be a place to send all the kids at parties so the adults can hear themselves think. So everybody wins. Except for Winkin and Blinkin. They're probably going to miss Nod.