My mother had a few aunts. I talked about Mildred in the last blog.
Now I’m going to talk about another one.
Her name was Ethel.
Her husband’s name is not important.
He was an asshole. He cheated on her, he lied to her, and he treated her bad. One of the family stories was about how he would say he was going to work, then take off to the shore with his mistress.
His dying was possibly one of the best things that ever happened to her. Yeah, he was awesome like that.
Anyway, fast forward: Ethel was older by the time I met her. My grandfather (Ethel’s brother) had gone blind and couldn’t drive anymore, so my father had started helping out. My mother and Ethel began talking more and more, and Ethel decided to give my mother a family heirloom, a rocking chair that had come over from Czechoslovakia.
My father and I went to Ethel’s house to get the rocking chair.
Ethel would have made the show Hoarders even more famous than it is.
There were paths through the house – sides a few feet high, made from piled newspapers, clothing, miscellaneous boxes, bags filled with…something? I didn’t want to know.
The rocking chair was in the attic.
We wound through the house, up the stairs to the second floor, and then opened the door to the attic.
The stairs to the attic were lined with boxes of cereal. Unopened boxes of cereal. Well, not really unopened – the tops weren’t opened, but rats and mice had gnawed through the sides and there were bits of cereal and droppings from the rodents all over the stairs.
We went up.
The attic was actually slightly less hoarder-ing than the rest of the house, probably because she was old enough that getting up those rickety stairs were too hard. She directed us from the second floor, and we were able to find the rocking chair, covered in newspapers from the 1930s. (They were super interesting and still in one piece – mostly. But we were there for the chair, so we left them behind.)
We wrestled the chair down the stairs. It was older than the newspaper that was sitting on it, so we had to be careful with it, but there was so little space that it became a very delicate balancing act of getting it to move without breaking it.
Next up – the stairs down to the first floor!
Another nerve-wracking experience, but we made it all the way down. The rocking chair was still in one piece, and we were ready to take it outside and load it into the car.
Until we opened the front door.
Well, until we tried to open the front door.
Ethel was a New Jersey gal, through and through. When it got cold, she kept piling things behind the door to work as a wind break. Since she never opened the door all the way, it hadn’t been a problem before. But it was a problem now.
I got down and started handing things from behind the door to my father. Boxes, bags, you name it.
I had just handed off a box to my father when he stopped the process.
“Ethel,” he said, “This is a box from a funeral home. It’s never been opened.”
She came over. Look at it. Took it from him. Examined it. Shook it a little.
“Oh!” she said. “That’s where Frank is!”
She’d been using him to block the draft. He was dead as a doornail, but he’d been used as a doorstop.
It was totally an appropriate end for him – he finally did something good for her.