Kiddie Pools, Victorian Porn, Sides Of Beef, And Gold: A Family Story

Apparently, the children of hoarders suffer most. Too bad no one ever told that to my grandpa.

I'm no shrink, and given that my grandfather shunned doctors he was hardly diagnosed. But I'd say by any definition, clinical or otherwise, Grandpa Moe was a hoarder. Unless, that is, there's another term for a condition that leads one to build six sheds on his property to house the books, kitsch, toys and other necessities built up over a lifetime of unchecked accumulation.

Apparently it all got far worse when he was forced into early retirement (another story.) Suddenly, he had every day free to comb local thrift stores and yard sales and demolition sites, adding to his stores of ...well, everything. He needed more pressure cookers to put in the abandoned boat, of course, brass animals to fill the dilapitated trailer next to the A-Frame full of clocks and Victorian pornography, boards to cover the ten-foot heap of gravel he'd "scored" when they tore down a nearby church, and that's to say nothing of the three book sheds, "greenhouse," and kitchen equipment lean-to. The yard was pocked with abandoned pieces of machinery, bales of hay, broken-down vehicles and the odd armchair. The house - a onetime modest 1950 ranch, now a sort of low-rent Winchester mansion - was needless to say packed to the gills with clocks, books, swords, the occasional power tool, kitchen gadgetry and bags of licorice. Naturally, he'd built a separate annex for the deep-freeze, and regularly replenished its stores at a nearby grocery store that stocked only defective and out-of-date provisions. Gold and other precious metals were, of course, melted into ingots and buried somewhere under the house.

In some ways, his mania was more wide-reaching than that of the typical, Collyer-brothers-style hoarder (or, say, my dad's grandmother, whose Bronx apartment was crammed with old newspapers or soiled paper napkins.) His love was a bargain, loosely-defined. And, as is usual with hoarders, he could not part with a single treasure, be it a ten-year-old SAT prep book ("might be useful for your cousin!"), a plastic doll that he'd protest was "imported - from Taiwan!" or the XXL cotton housecoat he'd thought I might be able to "make into something."

According to the UPI piece, hoarders are a source of shame and embarrassment to their children, sometimes to the extend that as teens they leave home. In the case of my grandpa, the greatest sufferer was surely his wife. Grandma Yumma's eyes would fill with tears of resignation when the car pulled up, laden with another hundred discarded microwave cookbooks, a love seat, perhaps a kiddie pool. Her days were spent in fruitless fight against the clutter, the chaos, the ever-encroaching walls of junk. What seemed to us kids a wonderland of musty playhouses and mysterious treasures became, as we aged, a symbol of her defeat. When my grandparents died, in quick succession, the catharsis was swift and unsentimental. The Salvation Army made trip after pickup trip; movers shlepped dumpster after dumpster of gravel and detritus; towers came for the trailer, the cars, the boat. Some artist made a traveling exhibition with the thousands of books. Decades of craziness were erased in a matter of weeks, and yet the ghosts of all that junk somehow manage to haunt all of us still. Says a psychiatrist in the UPI article, getting hoarders to clear out their stuff is "a very challenging process." He has no idea.

Clutter may drive children away from home [UPI]