Over the summer I worked hard on getting Ms. D’s yard in order. I installed a sprinkler system in her yard and garden. Her garden was her pride and joy. This was her connection to the past, her close relationship with her departed mother, her best friend. I came to find out that, other than some acquaintances from work, she was her only friend.
Every day, I made it a point to take the dogs over to her house and have a cup of coffee with her. She really looked forward to this. She would always have ice tea and some treats for this time. We would just sit and visit. Over time I got to know her well. She was still somewhat guarded but had really come to trust me. All she had in her life was me and my business partner along with the dogs. Her brother, with whom she had little to do, lived at a considerable distance.
Every day she would comment on my flowers. Talking about how beautiful they were, she would individually review each group. I told her next year I would plant her as many flowers as she wanted. That so excited her that she talked about it ever day I came over. She had been struggling with taking care of the garden. I bought a tiller and tilled it for her after I tilled mine. She was very grateful. We had already taken over her mowing and trimming because her bad knee kept her from mowing it. Besides, she simply couldn’t keep up, since the addition of a sprinkler system.
The biggest reason I installed this sprinkler was that I was putting one in my yard and garden. Doing two at once meant less time and cost than doing them individually. I saved a lot of money by purchasing the pipe in volume and renting the trencher once, etcetera. I also knew she was struggling to move all the hoses and keep up with the watering in the garden. The sprinkler solved this. She was beaming ear-to-ear because she didn’t have to worry about the watering and her garden was doing so much better since it was getting water on a regular basis. I really think that tending her garden was one of the few reasons she had to get up in the morning.
With no family, or friends, she didn’t go anywhere except to church. She was very conscious of her appearance. Handicapped and somewhat overweight, the only thing she ever did, besides sitting in her back yard, related to her church. She never missed. She would faithfully attend each week but would always return right after the service. She never stayed, or seemed to get involved with any of the other activities. When I asked her about this she changed the subject. I never ask again. I got the message and pretty much figured out it was because she felt ashamed of her appearance.
Every day it was the same routine. I would bring the dogs over and have a cup of coffee. When it was time to get back to work or go home I would began to get up and she would start a new conservation or ask a question so I would have to stay a little longer. She insisted I leave the hounds with her until I got home from my afternoon split-shift driving the bus. She thought it was unnecessary to leave the dogs alone when she was more than willing to watch them. She also had ample treats to give them, as I discovered later. No wonder when I got up to leave the hounds never moved. They knew a good thing.
It had been over a year since we lived in the house. Even with the daily visits and the nightly walks with the hounds, after which she insisted we stop back to have a Popsicle, we were never inside her house. Nor were we invited. She keeps the drapes pulled and doors tightly closed.
On day, while having our daily coffee and small talk, she asked me if I could replace a sink and how much would it cost. I said I thought I could figure it out. I also told her that, in the event I ran into trouble, I had a buddy who was a master plumber who could come and help me out. I asked her if the sink leaking. She explained that it was old, leaked, and was prone to plugging. She said over the years it had started rotting around the top and the old Formica had started to lift. I asked for some details as to how the sink was built into the cupboards, but she didn’t have any idea. I suggested that I would take a look at it for her if she liked. She responded with a dismissive, “Yeah, maybe someday I will have to have you do that.” She then changed subjects.
She would bring up the sink every once-in-a-while, or I would inquire. But it always ended up the same way; she would change the subject and drop it.
This went on for several months.
It was now late fall and I was putting away everything for the winter and winterizing the sprinkler system so it wouldn’t freeze. It was cool outside but she came out to sit in here old lawn chair which used to be her mother’s, to watch us do the last of the fall yard-work.
After we had finished the work she said that she had a leak in the sink and the drain was plugged and wondered if we could take a look at it. I agreed. My business partner was sitting with us having a hot chocolate that she given him and he suggested we do it now before the weather turned bad incase it involved the outside sewer drain.
She seemed a bit anxious about this. She also appeared uncomfortable. She started making excuses, “Well, the house is a mess and as soon as I get it picked up a bit I will have you look at it.”
I asked her how bad the leak was. She said that the water was dripping pretty badly from the faucet. When I asked about the drain being plugged she said that she had been adding Drano every day and by the end of the day it would go down in the sink. I told her that she shouldn’t keep adding Drano for a lot of reasons not to mention if we had to take it apart or get a plumber it was hazardous to deal with the harsh chemicals that are in Drano. I also told here that the fumes over time were something to be concerned about. She said it did smell quite pungent.
I told here I thought I should, for her safety, take a look. She reluctantly agreed, and offered numerous excuses for the condition of her house. She explained that it had been hard to keep up with it because of her knee. I told her I understood and didn’t really care; that it’s her house and it is she, not us, who has to live in it.
We got up and started heading for the door. All the time she was making excuses for her house-keeping.
She opened the door. It would only open part way. It seemed something was blocking it. A broom had fallen down and kept the door from opening up enough for her to get in. I offered to help. She reluctantly let me. There was a foul odor coming from inside. I got the door open and stepped inside.
I was shocked, indeed stunned, from what I saw. The smell was overwhelming.
I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.
There was barely a narrow path heading towards another room. The piles of clothes, furniture, food, papers, mail and everything else you could imagine, were shoulder high. The smell was almost unbearable.
I realized right then and there that this wasn’t a nightmare, it was real. This was a garbage-house. It was one of those houses that, ever-so-often, you would hear about on TV, or read about in the newspaper. But, here I was, standing in one.
I really couldn’t believe what I was seeing. I was even less sure what, if anything, I could do about it.
She was standing behind me and openly embarrassed said, “I’ve fallen behind on cleaning since my mother’s death. I have suffered deep depression and am under medical care. I have not been able to do much because of all the medication I am on. I just feel overwhelmed and am so ashamed to have you see this.”
I assured her it was ok.
But at this point there was no sense in embarrassing or reacting in such a way that it would cause her to loose trust in us. I was not sure how, but somehow, right then and there, I decided I was going to help her. I had no idea where to begin.
Worse yet it was clearly not safe to remain in the house.
I remember thinking, almost praying, “Oh, dear Lord, what do I do?” I looked at my business partner and he just stood there dumbfounded. He was trying not to gag. I could see this.
I remember thinking, “What now; what am I getting into?”
(Protected by copy write, all rights reserved ,D.Jerzak 3-06-2007)