While I’d love to tell you all about our wonderful Christmas, I feel like I need to back up a few days and fill you in on our Dad Trip to Knoxville last week. It was too eventful to just let pass without documenting. And by “eventful” I mean “seriously depressing and also maybe creepy.”
When my brother and I got to town, we dropped by Dad’s house and this is what we found. This is the only picture I have of it, however, as the company helping tend the yard at Dad’s removed it before we had time to take more pictures. (Christmas week and they had it down less than 24 hours after we called…if you’re in Knoxville? USE THEM. PLEASE.) This is/was the tree that my Dad knew was going to fall down on the house any minute. He was so sure of it that he had tied a rope around it anchoring it to another tree in a way so that when it fell, it may fall away from the house. He was so sure it would fall that he never re-wired my old bedroom after the last tree fell. He thought the tree would fall on my old room and didn’t want to have live wires there. Dad was actually hoping the tree would fall soon so that he would finally have the excuse he needed to either a) tear down and start over or b) move. It was very surreal to see it down. 9 months after he died. And you know what? He was off by one room. It fell on the kitchen. Not my old bedroom.
And as if that wasn’t enough…when my brother went in the house to investigate damage in the kitchen? He found evidence of a vagrant living there. It was late and dark and creepy, so we came back the next day with a police officer to make sure the person wasn’t still there somewhere hiding and waiting to attack us. I guess creepy may not be strong enough of a word. Realizing someone has been living in your old bedroom in the house you grew up in? It’s just hard to explain. Creepy? Yes. Definitely. But also so very sad. The more we investigated we realized the person hadn’t been there in a while. There was mold and dust on things he had used. We also realized that the person was probably a normal, good person. Aside from the whole squatter thing.
There wasn’t a lot left in the house. The person had gathered whatever blankets they could find and made a pallet. They tried to make use of the radio/stereo that we left behind. (Why did we leave that behind?) They cleaned up after themselves, for the most part. There was a bag of garbage. They didn’t take anything with them when they left the last time, not even things they could have sold. They didn’t vandalize. They just lived there. Ate peanut butter. And weirdest of all? Did puzzles.
We are 99% sure there were not puzzles in the house the last time we cleaned it out. So the person brought them with him? Maybe? I’m not sure why he never came back to finish them…I hope it’s because his life turned for the better and he didn’t need Dad’s house anymore. Because in terms of squatters? We had the best one you could ask for. No liquor bottles. Or mouthwash bottles, as the police officer explained was common to find in those situations. No evidence of drug use. No crack den. No signs of a group of homeless people. No vandalism. No theft. Just a person down on his luck maybe? Needed a safe place to stay – and do puzzles. In some weird way, we both agreed that Dad may have liked this guy.
We were doing a quick scan before we left and stopped to look at the board on the wall where we had measured our heights over the years. There was a name that looked like “Rick” on there. We are certain it was someone from our family scribed in Dad’s chicken scratch, but it looked like “Rick.” One of us laughed and said, “Who is Rick?” LilZ said, “The vagrant.” We cracked up imagining our squatter taking the time to add his name to the hatchmarks on the wall. From that moment on we referred to the homeless person as “Rick” – as in, “I feel bad about throwing away Rick’s puzzles.”
All in all? Between the tree crushing the house and the squatter…it was a truly surreal experience. And the best thing to come out of it? My brother and I seemed to finally be able to let go of the house. We no longer had weird pangs associated with getting rid of it. That one day and suddenly it hit us: This was not our house anymore. It’s empty of Dad and his stuff. It’s crumbling to pieces. It’s just an old building that happened to once be our home…but not anymore. The sentimental attachment to the place seemed to escape when Rick came in with his puzzles. We are now more than ready to get rid of it. I’ll be calling today to find someone to take it off our hands. It’s just a house my dad owned…it is no longer our home.
We also visited Dad’s grave at the cemetery. We took him tulips. When we got there we saw a beautiful image of hundreds of wreaths laid across the graves. They didn’t cover the entire cemetery, but most of the plots by the entrance. (Which happens to be where my uncle is buried, so there was one on his grave.) We inquired about them and found out about Wreaths Across American which covers all of Arlington every year. They also deliver batches to other Memorial cemeteries around the country and we got 400. Not enough for even 10% of the graves there, but still a wonderful thought. We’ll definitely be donating next year.
Not quite the trip to Knoxville my brother and I had planned, but an eventful one nonetheless! We did take some time to enjoy downtown Knoxville and rode what was possibly the stinkiest horse/carriage EVER. I mean, I know they don’t smell like roses with those poopbags strapped to their butts, but OH MY GOD. I found myself thinking, “Would it be rude to ask to get off the carriage now because THE SMELL IS KILLING ME!” I guess I’m a city girl, or something. Either way…glad we did it once…NEVER DO IT AGAIN. A novel experience for the small children one time so that we can tell them about it when they get older and want to do it again, but nothing any part of me will ever opt to relive. Not without some sort of potpourri face mask, anyway. I get enough of the stinky poop smell from my youngest child, and I don’t have to pay $20 for that experience.