Saturday, September 29, 2007

Alzheimer's and Storage Buildings

Denny, my Father-in-Law, has Alzheimer's.
He's still with us, and I already miss him.
Denny has always been a pack rat. In addition to being an ROTC instructor, he taught furniture refinishing at New Mexico State. His students probably were given projects from his overflowing garage. He always had an eye for other people's discards. Most of the furniture in his home was found on the side of the road, taken home, re-worked, re-finished, and now looks great. One of the saddest aspects of the Alzheimer's has been the loss of the muscle memory required to do that type work.
There are three buildings behind my In-Law's house - one was a workshop, one was a storage shed for the lawnmower and yard tools, and one was the original servant's quarters from the era when their home was built in the 1920's. My In-Law's will have to move to an Assisted Living facility some time in the next year. Denny can no longer maintain the place.
Denny would never allow us to clear the accumulated junk from the three outbuildings. He honest-to-God planned to eventually use ALL of it. So we've had to empty the buildings while he's out of town. When he returns, he may or may not notice that his hoardings are gone. But we'll tell him he helped us, he'll eventually remember helping us, and all will be well.
Two of my drivers from work, Adrian and RJ, helped us haul the stuff to the dumpster(s). The first building was so full that you couldn't walk through the door. There was lumber. There were railroad ties. Sections of chain link fence. He had 10 ice chest/drink boxes in there; four had been mis-appropriated from his last job at Meals on Wheels. Two were from his church. Four others had been AWOL for years. It's hard to remember to return something when you can't remember taking it.
Two of the drink boxes were filled with leaves, one was filled with dirt. One was so heavy we almost couldn't budge it. (Nuts, bolts, lockwashers, nails) The others were filled with STUFF. 1981 Texas Ranger Ballcaps. Screwdrivers. Rope. Stool legs. One drink box contained an assortment of 5-gallon ziplock bags filled with roots.
That's just the ice chest category. We maxed out a 24-foot box truck, just from the two outbuildings that we emptied today. We hauled off a Mexican birthing stool, four ladders, three wheelbarrows with no tires, two broken lawnmowers, tree limbs (?) and enough venetian blinds to black every out every window in The House of Seven Gables.
The deeper we went into the first building, the more "logical" the contents became. Buried in each building was an assortment of semi-useful lumber, yard tools, and other things of value that had been stored there during the good times. I didn't want any of it, but someone might. Halfway to the door were things from the era where the disease took over. That's where we found leaking garden hoses, mis-matched floor tile, and the beginnings of his rock collection (the rock collection will probably be a future post). No one would ever want this stuff, or go to any effort to keep it out of the rain.
The area nearest the door, implying that it's contents had been stored within the last two years, had all the truly useless stuff. Broken axe handles. Tree limbs. Screenless screen doors. Stumps. Each building was a perfect metaphor for a mind dealing with Alzheimer's. The new stuff was a useless muddle that couldn't even qualify as garbage. The older material still made sense.
I gave Adrian and RJ first crack at owning any of it, just for taking it home.
Denny has spent the last two years carefully packing this stuff away.
Adrian took a few trinkets, and RJ politely declined.
I almost cried.


Mary Emma Allen said...

Thank you for sharing. My husband and I also had to clear out two houses with my mom and dad's lifetime of accumulation. As you say, the latter years' collections were the most unusual. However, both had been children of the Depression Era, so collecting and saving was common for that generation.

Thank you for sharing this post in the All About Alzheimer's Carnival at Alzheimer's Notes. I'm Liz Lewis' co-blogger.

Durango said...

Wow. I see now how this Alzheimer's thing can get even more interesting. Regarding that collection of junk, my friend Lulu up in Tacoma makes her living re-selling what, to me, looks like stuff that belongs in a garbage dump. She'll find something on the side of the road, worn and broken, and re-sell it. I saw it with my own eyes in the Tacoma Dome at a show where she sold a broken table she'd snatched up at an exit from I-5. I'm hoping you didn't unwittingly discard a small fortune in what appeared, to a sane person, to be worthless junk.