I’m in the middle of a memoir written by a woman who was raised by a couple of crazy parents in Long Island, New York. She’s now in her late 30s, an actress and writer living in New York City.
Her father was a packrat, a hoarder of gargantuan proportions, and her mother was someone who put up with that while also contributing to the mountain of mess.
I’m only in the middle of the book, so I don’t know how it all turns out. I did flip to the end to read “About the Author,” which is how I know what she’s doing these days.
She spent her childhood in two homes. The first burned down. The family moved to a second, and swiftly turned it into a garbage dump like the first, complete with rats and rotting pipes and nowhere to comfortably sit due to mounds of trash.
The book is titled Coming Clean. Get it?
The book brought back memories of my first wife and her family. They were not packrats, but I do recall an engine block in the middle of the living room at one point. The house was a shack in the woods in Kenner, Louisiana, which is a western suburb of New Orleans.
The issue was not hoarding. It was alcoholism, specifically that of my first father-in-law, a freelance carpenter who was the nicest guy in the world when he was sober.
When he wasn’t sober, it was another matter, along the lines of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Hyde only appeared to his wife and kids. Even when drunk, other people still saw Jekyll, a friendly fellow.
But he terrorized his immediate family for years.
His name was Durward and, if memory serves, he built the shack in which they lived. It sat on brick pilings and was in dreadful condition. There were gobs of grease on the kitchen ceiling, and while sitting on the throne in the bathroom, you could look straight down through a hole in the rotting floor to the dirt below the house.
It made for an unsettling squat.
Late in life, Durward — everyone called him Buddy — went on the wagon, spending his later years sober. He was an excellent artist to boot. While I was a member of the clan, Buddy drove an old car, something like a 1948 DeSoto, with a shot undercarriage and sagging upholstery. It provided a rollicking ride.
In spite of the troubles, my first wife was very close to her family, and most every Sunday for the five-plus years we were married we drove to Kenner to sit at the kitchen table for hours with coffee, shooting the fat. No, make that the breeze because the fat hung on the ceiling.
I grew very weary of the endless Sundays there. I wonder if we might still be together except for that. Probably not.
While my first father-in-law was problematical in one way, the second was a problem in another. He was schizophrenic, often housed in mental facilities. This, of course, had its effect on my second wife, which had an effect on our marriage. How not?
I married both women knowing of their past. Would a normal person have done that? Maybe there’s something wrong with me.
I wrote recently of my third wife’s family. Here too are problems but not the sort that will break us up.
I pray not. I’m too old to start over.