Happy New Year, World! I hope we can see more peace and calm and less fanaticism this year, but it’s not looking likely. However, I’ll do my bit for compassion and understanding and remember, it’s the microcosm, your neighbors, your friends and your family that can make for a more loving place.
On that note, I traveled to the frozen wastelands (as I see it) of Alberta to visit friends and family over the holidays. While I’ve been back in recent years I’ve tried to avoid winter because it is evil and bone-chilling. I decided to brave it for the winter festivity and because my mother is 91. Two weeks I spent, and overall the weather was only -28 for about three days. The rest was in the -5 range, balmy for Alberta.
It gave me a chance to visit friends, find some long lost cousins, and do the family thing. Staying at my mother’s, and with my organizer personality, it meant cleaning out drawers, cupboards or closets. Even my sister, who might be considered closer to the hoarder personality (she moved in the this summer, purportedly with boxes to the ceiling) felt my organizer bee abilities. We were driving all over the city to do some pre-Christmas shopping and as I sat in the passenger seat of the moderately messy car, she asked me to look for her Superstore card.
Grabbing that rather pregnant purse, I pulled out the overstuffed wallet. No card. Turns out there were two other holders with plastic cards. Still no card but I started to go through her bulging wallet, putting Tim Hortons (the Canadian doughnut gods) and Shoppers Drug Mart gift cards together. There was more than one and I have never seen so many store cards before. My sister could be the goodwill ambassador for commercialism and store marketing.
In the process of cleaning her wallet I found coupons that had expired and others that soon would. There was a forest of business cards, many for businesses she no longer frequented. In fact, this mothership of store cards had very little actual cash and took up most of the room in a moderate sized purse. When I was done, there was a small plastic shopping bag full of paper. Her wallet lost several inches in girth and actually closed by the clasp.
At my mother’s it was much as it had been two year’s previously. I exclaimed, “Mom, you’re a squirrel! There’s candies and nuts everywhere.” This time, as I started to clean up for Christmas dinner, I decided to inventory my mother’s squirrel hoard. To put some of this into perspective, my mother grew up during the Depression, in a small coal mining town. A treat at Hallowe’en was an actual fresh apple, something we would sneer at today. She traveled to a large city with her friend to find work. They slept in ditches with their one small suitcase and hitchhiked to get there, when it was much safer to do so.
Going through the Depression and then WWII where rationing was practiced everywhere, my mother learned to appreciate being prepared. Long before the days of Costco she hunted out food wholesalers and would buy toilet paper and other items in bulk. After her divorce, she continued her frugality, and would buy day-old bread from a bakery, up to 24 loaves, which were then frozen. She also sold Tupperware, when we were very young and I remember my brother and I playing in the large container suitcase. So yes, my mother still has nearly three shelves of Tupperware, which, by the time I organized it, was only two.
She had five knife sharpeners (and nothing but dull knives), six cheese/food graters and more pots than a restaurant kitchen. In fact, she’s never thrown out a pot or handle-less cup since I was a child. A Taurus mug that I used when about 12 was there, the handle gone. I convinced her to throw out a few pots where the Teflon was worn but then she balked at getting rid of the two aluminum, electric frying pans that she no longer uses.
In cleaning out a spare closet I found crafts going back to the 70’s; unfinished potholders and head-sized balls of wool. One partially finished needlepoint of a forest, with the bag of woo, she told me she had bought it in England during the war, before any of us were born! She’d never worked on it since. There was a pillow cover, to be embroidered that had Canada’s flag, the Union Jack. That’s how old it was. There was a three-foot plastic bin of gifts for unexpected g, which she had forgotten about. Then there were the cosmetic bags, for traveling. Two were stuffed full, then a triple decker bag, extra deep, chock full of lotions, shampoo, conditioners and other small toiletries. Some were very ancient and dead. Others half used, and many unopened. She must have gone on a burglary spree of hotels.
I cannot name all of the things I cleaned and boggled at, such as health supplements in at least four places, or the spices in pretty much every cupboard. If you’re thinking my mother is going senile, you’re wrong. She’s pretty sharp still and has always liked to keep things, lots and lots of things. Like every scrap of wrapping paper ever used (I threw out a three–foot pile some years back), or enough bulbs to light half of the city, or coats.
All of this pales in comparison to the food items and not just any food, but chocolates and candies. My mother shrunk this last year to 4’9″ and she lost weight. She was never overly large but stores like a squirrel. In doing the inventory, I counted every bag or container that was open on the kitchen table (her place has two kitchens,up and down but she used the bottom one for eating) or on the table by the chair where she watches TV, or on the counter upstairs. There were the nutrolls in the fridge upstairs, and then in the deep freeze there were 17 boxes of After Eight mints. She claims she can only find them at certain times of the year and when her stomach is upset the mint helps (with chocolate of course). There were also another five boxes of Purdy’s chocolates.
Purdy’s should have a plaque to my mother: I’m sure she keeps them in business. The upstairs cupboard had the main squirrel hoard. There were hard candies, contained in bags or bought bulk. I pooled many into one container. There were Scotch mints and licorice all sorts, mint chocolate bars from Purdy’s, Jordan almonds, nougat (hard as a rock), and some Italian coconut confection, a few Smarties or M&Ms. I didn’t count raisins because they’re a natural food. When I thought I was done, I discovered a container of icy squares and of Ferrero Rocher in the closet. Then, as we pulled dishes out of the china cabinet for Christmas dinner, lo and behold there were two large bulk bags of chocolate squares and a mega box of liqueur chocolates where the liqueur had dried up.
I thought I was done but I was looking in a cupboard for a pot and lo, there was a box of chocolate covered cookies. And then I looked in another cupboard and found another five boxes, plus some other cookies. My mother was given another two boxes of chocolates for Christmas and chocolate covered cookies, plus some Italian candies. And then three days after she bought a tin on sale. She said to me that she had all this stuff because if she got sick there was enough to carry her through. I told her, “Well, Mom, if the apocalypse comes, you’ll survive it on chocolate alone.”
Readers may recall that I did the apocalypse diet a year ago, and with the food in my place (no hoards of candy) I survivef for three months without buying anything. My mother would run out of real food in probably less time than I did but then I didn’t count her dry goods staples. However, the final count of cookies, candies and chocolates in my mother’s place was…ready for this? ONE HUNDRED AND SIX! Yes, indeed. The Guinness Book of Records needs to talk to my mom.
All in all this was a lesson to me. I determined there are three levels of “collector.” I’m the curator because I have many ornaments and tchatkas (like my mother…sigh) but I dust and you can walk through my place. My mother is the pack rat, because she stores things for unforeseeable disasters, and my sister is the hoarder, who keeps more than my mother but can’t find things. It’s a fine line between them and it’s a lesson to me not to hang onto things I no longer use or need. I barely escaped without a suitcase of chocolates.