Burning Down The House

In addition to meeting a bunch of second cousins and going to a funeral, one of the things I did yesterday (Sunday, that is), was to help clean out aunt Babe’s house. My great grandfather Joseph bought this house in September 1908. Babe has lived there almost her entire life. Since no living relative lives in Madison, it was clean now or leave it to people to do piecemeal when they are in town.

The house itself isn’t in great shape. It dates from the 1870s, when it was a one floor, two room building. An upstairs and a couple of rooms on the side were added later, though I have no idea when. Plumbing and electricity have been added, as well as a foundation. I’m not sure what’s holding it together. Floors sagging. Walls tilting. Portions of ceilings fallen in. It’ll keep lions and tigers and bears out, but not varmints.

I mention that because varmints have been getting in for years. But other than the rooms that Babe inhabited (kitchen, dining room, living room), what the varmints left behind (droppings, chewed up clothing, their dead bodies) hadn’t been removed for a long time. There was enough disease causing detritus in the dust that we all wore masks. Most of us wore heavy duty gloves as well. The pants I wore? They are sitting in a corner now and I’m not going to put them on again until they’re washed twice. We filled 40 or 50 trash bags with clothing, bedding, broken phones, curtains, old Christmas lights, and things we couldn’t even identify.

But buried in all that crud were some gems. Some of the furniture pieces are 100+ year old antiques. They’ll need to be re-upholstered and re-finished for sure. There were hundreds of photos and letters. Photos dating to the civil war. Those looked vaguely like my second great grandfather, Anton Weiss. But we’re not completely sure, because the photos where he’s positively identified were late in life where he’s about 75 years old. Aunt Babe’s letters from Bunny Berigan are there. The deed to the house was there, including the entire history of ownership of the property since 1843 (a lot of the important Wisconsin settlers owned the land at one point or another). There are books and jewelry, including some obvious wedding rings. We’ll have to have a jeweler look at those to see when they were made so we can guess as to whose they were. I’m salivating for when I can get copies of the photos. I did keep a bag of newspaper clippings that had been used as bookmarks. Most of them are obituaries of distant family members.

Anyway, the house wasn’t a hoarders lair. It just hadn’t been cleaned. If you are in the baby boom generation, do your children a favor and go through your stuff now. You’ve got 10 or 30 good years left in you. Get rid of the junk. Clean around the stuff that isn’t junk. Let your family spend their time around the funeral drinking to your memory, fighting over who gets stuck with the lime green chair you love, and poring over your photo albums and old love letters. That part is awesome! Cleaning rat feces, not so much.

One thought on “Burning Down The House”

  1. I was looking for a description of what rat feces would look like after it sat for 50 or 60 years. I found your description of cleaning out the old house. I’m going to share it. I am a baby boomer and you don’t know how often I think about the junk shoved away that I need to pitch for my daughter’s sake. I’dmlike it if she could just put a cash register at the door after I die and let people shop. My mother is a hoarder and my best friend’s mother is a worse hoarder. I’ve told my mother many times how cruel she is to leave me the task of cleaning her useless clutter. My friend’s mother is so bad, she filled up a beautiful architect designed house on a lake and had to buy a new house to live in, which she is now treating the same way. My friend will now have two houses to excavate. I say, matches are fun to play with…
    Anyway, thanks for this. The garbage man just left, so I’ll have to wait for next week.

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