I’m about to roast my mother, so let me preface this by saying my mom is one of my favorite people in the world. In my past few years of living on the road, I’ve stayed with her more and more often, partly because I’m old and wandering constantly hurts my back, partly because when I’m “out there” speaking or teaching or reading or doing whatever I do for my career, I’m “on” and surrounded by people all the time, and it’s nice to come to my isolated mountain and be a total hermit, and partly because I adore the heck out of my family.
My mom and I have fun together. We go on long hikes and watch Netflix and eat, but only good food, because she’s a health nut. If you haven’t noticed, she has the body of the supermodel. “Hey, Tawn! Let’s watch Netflix and eat salad!” is her idea of a wild night.
(My idea of a wild night is three bottles of wine, a shot of tequila, a vat of ice cream, and maybe some acrobats. If you haven’t noticed, I don’t have the body of a supermodel.)
Sometimes, she’ll mix it up and throw in some popcorn (no butter).
We are about as different as different could be. She is very organized, and she worries a lot. My room usually looks like a thrift store threw up in it.
I’m always like, “Eh, the house is on fire? It will work out. Pass me that ice cream, will you?” She also likes to throw things away. You know how some people do retail therapy? Well, she does whatever the opposite of that is. She gets rid of stuff to make herself feel better. It’s like a snake shedding its skin or something, only her skin is probably stuff she really needs and will miss someday. So I guess it’s not like a snake shedding its skin. It’s like a human shedding its skin. (Hey, molting human. You know that skin isn’t going to grow back, right? There’s only blood and guts under there, no more skin. Ok, just checking.)
I never know what the target of her obsession is going to be. A few months ago, I came home from God knows where—some other continent—as I live on the road and wander all of the time. I’d bought myself several packages of instant pudding before I left, and when I came home, I was exhausted and super excited to plop myself in front of the T.V. and eat pudding with whipped cream. (You miss crappy American food when you are in other places.) I asked her where my boxes of pudding were. She said, “Oh, I threw them away.”
I was like, “Why? Why would you throw boxes of pudding away?”
She shrugged. “They’d been there a month.”
“Mom, it’s powdered instant pudding mix. It doesn’t go bad.”
“Well, I figured no one was going to eat them, and they were cluttering up the pantry.”
“Mom, I was in Bangladesh. I couldn’t eat them. And they took up about an inch of space in the pantry. They were insignificant enough to be dwarfed by the average postage stamp.”
Sometimes, I’ll come home, and all the canned food will be gone because Mom decided to haul it all down to the local Salvation Army. She will often walk up to me with some perfectly useful item in her hand and say, “We don’t need this saucepan, do we?”
“I don’t know, Mom. Maybe not today. But you never know. Maybe someday you will want to make some sauce.” (She tosses pan into a bag and hustles out the door to take it to Goodwill, a pleased little smile on her face, as if she is accomplishing something very important.)
Sometimes, her need to get rid of things applies to whole pieces of furniture. Not furniture that no one is using, mind you. You might walk through the door one day and find out the couch is gone. About a month ago, she told me she was going to get a new bed for her guest room (where I sleep). The old bed was great, but she insisted it was time for a new one. It’s weird for her to want to bring home something new just for the heck of it, so I should have known something diabolical was going down. But I blindly trusted and stayed at her house while she went to do her volunteer work at the hospital so big, brawny men from a local charity could come and drag my bed away. I’ve been sleeping on a mattress on the floor for a month now. I am starting to suspect there was never any new bed coming. She just wanted to get rid of some REALLY big. She probably stays up at night with that pleased little smile on her face, congratulating herself because she got rid of something super substantial. Meanwhile, my back descends into the eleventh circle of Dante’s hell. (Yes, I know there were only nine. This one is new and very, very cruel.)
One year, I was writer in residence at Rosemont College for the fall semester, so I lived on the campus in Philadelphia.
As Christmas drew near, I started buying presents for my family members and having them shipped to my mom’s house, where I was going to spend the holidays. Well, Mom claims that she thought that because some of the packages had Chinese writing on them, they were evidence of people from another country trying to scam her. (I’m still not sure how the scam would work. Hey, anonymous American woman, I’m sending you lots of brand new, free shit with Chinese writing on the package. AND THERE IS NOTHING YOU CAN DO TO PROTECT YOURSELF!!!! HAHAHAHA!!!) I came home three days before Christmas to find that Mom had donated ALL OF MY CHRISTMAS PRESENTS TO GOODWILL. My kids got socks for Christmas that year.
My brother is the same way. Recently, he got divorced. Some people cope with that sort of thing by descending into alcoholism or buying fancy sports cars. Bryan coped by getting rid of everything he owned. I pet sit for him often, and every time I showed up to take care of his animals, something else was missing from the house. He got rid of the couch. Then the lazy boy. Then the coffee table. Finally, one night, I went over, and there was one lawn chair in his living room, poised across from the flat screen television on the wall. That was it. All the furniture in the room was gone. I’m not sure why he kept the lawn chair, except maybe, since he is older than I am, his back can’t handle sitting on the floor to watch television. I AM NOT MAKING THIS UP. Once all the furniture was gone, he started getting rid of most of his clothing. I told him that the only thing left for him to do was start throwing out one of the shoes from each pair of shoes he owned, because who needs two flip flops anyway?
And people wonder why I hoard things. It’s a coping mechanism. If I have three sauce pans, maybe Mom will find one and donate it to charity, and maybe Bryan will find the other and burn it, but damn it, I’ll still have a saucepan.