A Traveler and his Cat exploring America.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012


Lois and Julius

My grandmother was a unique woman, albeit a woman who herself was deeply scarred with the sudden tragic loss of her only child, my father.  She never showed her hurt and carried on with life in a most cheerful, kind and compassionate manner for all she knew.  But behind the scene of her outside existence lay the evidence of her pain.  She became a hoarder after my father died.  Having watched the television series about hoarders I now understand.  Photographs of her home before my father died show a clean, tidy, well-kept home like all others.  But my memories are all of clutter, chaos and heaps piled high that led to "avalanches" as she casually referred to them and I loved it all.  Grandma's house was a world of adventure for a young boy like me.

My wife enjoying probably one of my grandmother's stories during a dinner at my aunt Florence's home. 

She exposed me to classical music (my car radio is tuned to the classical music station out of San Francisco and I listen to classical music through satellite radio when on the road), the ballet, movies of the 30' & 40's all of which I appreciate still to this day.  She was a prolific letter writer and story teller which has influenced me greatly.  She was the middle child of three brothers and a sister who was the youngest.  The two sisters could be no greater different from one and the other. My aunt Florence out-lived them all to the age of 100.  The three brothers were all travelers of the world and I suppose that is where the vagabond in me stems from.  My grandmother lived another 7 years after the death of my grandfather and died at the age of 64, at home where she was found by her last remaining brother.  It was nice she died in her home where I know she would have wanted death to come just as it did for my grandfather, quick and painless.

My daughter being shown how the flash works by my uncle Arthur who would be the one to find my grandmother.

I could tell many stories about my grandmother but I think the best to be told would involve me. It was a day, now grown and owning my own car, I had to stop by her house for some reason.  I had my girl friend (who would later become my wife) with me at the time.  I don't recall what exactly went through my mind at the impending awkward situation of my girl friend at my grandmother's home, but I knew I had to protect both women some how.  It was the very first time in my life I actually ever really considered my grandmother's abnormal lifestyle for what it was, just that.  I asked her to remain in the car which she thought very strange but fortunately did so without complaint.  I made the visit brief and she was not exposed to my grandmother's life.  And I had protected my grandmother's secret. 

When my grandmother died we were married and with two kids living in northern California.  We went down to help my aunt and uncle with the formidable task of cleaning out the house.  My aunt did not want my wife to come in and see the house but I explained to her that I already had prepared her for it.  In reality there was no way a person could be adequately prepared.  I wasn't even myself for it was greatly worse than my memory recalled.  My wife did fine and soon the two of us were treating it like a great adventure of discovery for that is exactly what it was. I regaled her with childhood tales as we worked our way through the my grandmother's world avoiding the occasional avalanche. When it was over she loved my grandmother even more than she had before, knowing her now better in death than she had in life. And I had learned something about my grandmother that few if any ever knew.  She was a member of Mensa, the International High IQ Society.

Four months after this picture was taken of her with her friends she would be gone.

An interesting thing I discovered while putting together these last few blog entries was that the photo at the top of this page was taken by my other grandmother at her home.  She was always a great one for taking pictures and would note on the back of every photo of who, what, where and when.  This photo is dated two days after my father was killed.  They look happy to me and I cannot help but wonder if my grandmother wrote the incorrect date, but she hadn't.  She was always precise with her details in life and if you look at the photo from yesterday's post the hurt is there in their faces.


  1. a lot of memories tied up in photographs from days gone by. Good that you have left some mention of them for future generations...

  2. I've just been reading your last few posts, they are a moving account of how people's lives are affected by the deaths of those who are close to them. There are many parallels with my family history - my father lost his father when he was six and there are several instances where people left behind by deaths of others became, shall we say, unusual. Thanks for sharing your story.

  3. A very nice story about your beloved grandmother. I have seen those tv-programs too about the houses filled to the ceiling with goods. A sad way to come to terms with your grief. The discovery she was a member of Mensa is amazing.

  4. What a beautiful post today, John. Sharing your memories with us is a great gift - I suspect you inherited your grandmother's love for a story. It is always interesting to uncover what causes people to do the things they do. And your wife must be one special lady - that would not be an easy thing to do - sorting through another person's life and not being put off by the things discovered. Thank you.

  5. i love how you protected your grandmother's secret - and also your sweet girlfriend. and that photo of your young wife listening to your grandmother is just so sweet! she is a beauty!

    i cannot imagine the pain your grandmother lived with and kept hidden for so many years. glad she was able to die in her home, too.

  6. Nice memory et lovely sharing.

  7. Awesome!
    Thank you for sharing John.

  8. I enjoyed reading about your heritage these last three posts. It's good to look back and see where we come from.

  9. Your grandmother sounds like a fascinating woman who taught you a lot. A Mensa member! I'm impressed. Becoming an over-collector with avalanches seems to happen not infrequently to older folks who live alone.

  10. So interesting... similar situation in my family, with a premature death following by years of hoarding by the surviving spouse.

  11. This sure is an amazing post for you the quiet man as you seem. To be that guy wanting to be on the road, searching for adventure. Thanks for this post, it is most interesting.


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