Some years ago I began watching and got mildly addicted to the show “Hoarders.” Months later, I cleaned out my garage and discovered dozens of cans of paint. I rationalized that I needed at least some of them in case walls or woodwork required touching up. Some as in maybe 10 cans. I’d always intended to donate the excess to local theater groups for set designs.
Obviously that never happened.
The excess cans were delivered to the next Waste Management toxic waste disposal collection day (or whatever it’s called).
This humbling experience caused me to garner empathy towards hoarders and stop watching that show, but did not diminish my curiosity about the disorder. Deep down I think I’m frightened I could easily develop similar patterns of behavior. (You should see my “collection” of fabric scraps—sometime in the future I’m certain I’ll find a use for that one-inch square of red polka dots.)
On one of my walks with my dog Lucy a few years ago, I discovered a house three blocks west and one block south that had all the hoarding signs—disintegrating drapes that were perpetually closed in downstairs windows, paraphernalia piled against upstairs windows, a backyard that looked like a combination of junkyard and garbage dump. My fascination with it caused Lucy and me to walk by on a regular basis.
Last year, the place was condemned by the City. Over the next few months, a great deal was removed from the backyard. After a certain point, though, progress came to a halt.
In the late morning of January 20, a friend called to say “my house” was on fire. I rushed to the scene to see firefighters battle toxic smoke spewing from the asbestos-singled structure. It was riveting to watch a firefighter stand high in the air on a truck ladder and spray hundreds of gallons of water on the house. When the smoke dissipated, the spray stopped. Within moments, the smoke started up again. All that water—and still there remained a deep burning that refused to surrender.
After an hour, I pulled myself away. I went home to fill a trash bag with clothes and shoes I never wear (notice I didn’t mention fabric) and put it in the garage with the intention of donating it to the Paul Bunyan Thrift Store. It sits next to the Christmas decorations where it’s likely to be forgotten until December.
The next day and the day after that and the day after that, I drove by. The house is in shambles—an astounding collection of possessions destroyed and caved into a monstrous heap. I was surprised to discover that underneath the shingles is a wooden gingerbread design. A lifelong coastal friend told me that in the fifties and sixties a number of people covered old houses in this way to make them appear more modern.
According to The Fort Bragg Advocate-News, the elderly owner is in a nursing home. In an interview with his daughter, she explained that she and her brother suffer from disabilities and could make little headway on clearing after it was deemed uninhabitable.
The Advocate-News gave an identity to this mysterious place—it was someone’s family home. Children had grown up there. It may have been an anchor in their lives until their father was forced to leave. It was built generations ago with old growth redwood, a decorative design crafted into the siding, originally a sweet showplace on Pine Street easily viewed from Main across from the Presbyterian Church (until the church burned down in 1978).
Everything on that property—at one time needed, desired and perhaps revered—has been reduced to charred rubble. It will eventually go the way of the Presbyterian Church. The lot will be cleared and made empty. A place that was once a family home will exist only in the memories of people who were once, like me, fascinated by it.