There is a place my mother and I often lunched called The Charleston Tea Room. Joe says places where you eat little sandwiches with the crusts removed are for “ladies only,” and is convinced that upon entering the door, tea rooms have magical properties that will surely shrink his testicles to the size of raisins. So on Saturdays, when I was in the mood for apricot tea and pumpkin bread with cream cheese sandwiches, I would call my mother.
As all who knew my mother are aware, my mother loved eating out so she never said “no.” But the Charleston Tea Room closes at 2 p.m. While Joe rarely sees me with make-up on weekends, my mother would never leave the house without full make-up and freshly pressed clothing with matching necklace and earrings. So when I called to see if she wanted to go to lunch, I knew she would never be quite ready to go. In fact she was never quite ready to go anywhere.
Mom was the ultimate “Chicken Little”– even if life was going well, the next disaster must surely be just around the corner. The first time she and Dad had a trip planned where they had to fly on an airplane, she hired an attorney to write their Wills. She cleaned the house “Spic and Span.” Because heaven forbid should something happen, what would the neighbors think if the plan crashed and our house was a mess?
Always a Mess
Our house was nearly always a mess. I think part of it was because each of my parent’s fathers were alcoholics. Though mother insisted “Daddy was a drunk, not an alcoholic,” as if that made a difference. But they never had kids over to play when they were younger — claiming it was because the house was a mess. And if it was a mess then neither would be technically lying. The other reason is that both Mom and Dad were hoarders. Not the kind on the television show “Hoarders,” of the fire-hazard variety, where no one can leave for years because all the doors and windows are blocked by mounds of junk. Not like Kimberly Rae Miller describes in “Coming Clean,” an eye-opening, you’re-not-alone, story about growing up in a house of hoarders.
No, when I was growing up, we just had lots of “stuff.” Dad collected old stuff and mom collected new stuff. They never threw anything away. Ever.
When my mother finally was ready to part with something, she would box it up and leave it my foyer when Joe and I were at work. Joe puts up with a lot. And he loved my mother — so he put up with her eccentricities. Even though it meant often coming home to find boxes of stuff we would never use left inside our front door.
The sad thing about growing up in a house of hoarders is that you start thinking life like that is normal. So when you leave home, and start your own family, you have the potential of repeating the pattern. My brother cannot throw anything away. I don’t know that he even recognizes it. I collect lots of stuff as well. I recognize it, but it is a constant struggle to let things go. Thank goodness Joe puts up with a lot. But it takes a party, or out-of-town company for me to go on a tear and throw away things that for anyone else is worthless, but for me has a memory attached. I have saved every card that Joe has ever given me — birthdays, Mother’s Days, Valentine’s Days, our anniversaries — even printed out the internet e-cards he sent when we were first dating, and saved them.
Most people think that sort of thing is romantic and sweet.
But saving the bolts from a bunk bed long since put out on the curb for disposal? That’s a bit ridiculous. I know it. I’m working on it. But it is still a constant struggle. And it’s exacerbated by traumatic events. I was well on my way to finally cleaning out the garage full of unopened boxes from our move back to Texas in 2004, during the Fall last year. Then my mother died — so my garage is now filled up with all her “stuff.” While my mother was cleaning and filing in preparation for a January 2013 surgery “just-in-case,” she, unfortunately left this world a bit early. She “barely made a dent,” as she used to say.
There is a silver lining, though, when you grow up in a house of hoarders — sometimes you find gems — pieces of your parents after they are gone, that make you smile. I found the following, written by my father in long hand, behind a file cabinet. It looks like he was writing out a talk to give a group of educators — maybe his own teachers (he was a school principal) at a back-to-school meeting.
Back-to-School Message to Teachers
by Jack L. Corron (1936 – 2004)
“After several hours the foreman and his crew still couldn’t figure out what had gone wrong, so they placed an emergency call to a high-powered consultant. An hour later he arrived, walked around the machine several times, paused and rubbed his chin thoughtfully.
“Then he picked up a hammer, confidently walked over to the machine, tapped it once, and the machine sputtered to life. It groaned to gain RPMs while the crew looked on, wondering if the straining machine would make it. Finally it began to whir and purr, the conveyor belts began to turn again, and the crew let out a loud cheer.
“Pure, unadulterated pleasure surged through the consultant as the machine began to hum. On his way out, the happy consultant left a bill for $1,000. When the foreman saw it, he hit the ceiling and demanded an itemized invoice. A couple of days later the expanded invoice arrived.
- For tapping the machine $ 1
- For knowing where to tap $999
“Now what has this got to do with you the classroom teacher or school administrator?
“Simply this; every day of your working life you are the high-powered consultant. Instead of the assembly line you are dealing with thirty or so different machines and invariably when you get the minds heading in the right direction, the counselor sends you one more to fix. By the way, when you later question why you received the new student when you know good and well the several other instructors up and down the hall have fewer students in their rooms…”
And that is where my Father’s manuscript stops.
Now knowing how my father thought and listening to a number of his little “speeches” over the years, my guess would be he came to this part of the talk and had a dilemma. If he was giving this little speech to my mother when she was a teacher, or to his class when he has teaching Sunday School at the Methodist church, he would have finished it…
“Maybe God just thinks you’re the right consultant for the job.”
But since he was employed by the public school system, and thankfully, recognized the Constitutional mandate that separates Church and State, he knew he couldn’t end his talk to public school teachers in such a way.
It remains unfinished. It seems Dad wasn’t quite ready to go either.
But What Does this Have to Do with Wine?
Now what does this have to do with wine? Well, perhaps when the winemaker gets terrible weather, when the forecast calls for torrential rain three weeks before scheduled harvest, or when the Viognier he plans to co-ferment with Syrah just doesn’t live up to his expectations, and he must throw away all of his Viognier…maybe God just thinks the winemaker is the right consultant for the job.
What does this have to do with life?
If things are not going the way you would like with your business, your school, your community, or your government…
If you are waiting for someone else to come fix your life so it is easy and that the only difficult decision you have to make is which wine to pair with dinner…
Maybe it is best not to look elsewhere for that fix.
Maybe someone thinks you are the right consultant for the job.