Monday, January 25, 2010


My grandmother has Alzheimer's. She has, for some number of years now, been declining in health. A few months back, she sustained an injury which resulted in a MRSA infection and required her to have 24 hour nursing care. And so the story begins.

Unfortunately, she did not have a Power of Attorney is effect, although she did leave a will that she had drawn up through a lawyer a few years back. It was now necessary that she enter a full time care facility, the cost of which would total $80,000 per year, a cost that none of her five children were about to shoulder. More lawyers were involved, infighting amongst my disfunctional family peaked, and in the end my poor grandmother's care and her assets went under state control since the siblings couldn't agree. The state would come in and cover the costs once all her of assets were exhausted. She had only one thing to her name--her house.

She lived in a row house in Baltimore City. It was built and purchased nearly 100 years ago by my great grandparents. I think they paid around $3,000 for it, incredible that at the peak of the housing boom it was worth 100 times that. My earliest memories of life are in that house, with my great grandma Rose's cooking of everything from roast beef to ramen noodles. Her food was the best. The house was full of turn of the century antiques--things Rose had bought at that time that withstood the test of time and aged with grandeur. At the risk of sounding like an old person myself, they just don't make stuff like that anymore. Most notably in my memory are her mahogany dining room table and the two bedroom sets--four poster beds, chests of drawers with dovetail joints, the works.

When my great-grandma Rose passed away in 1989, my grandmother moved into the house. Little changed there, it still to this day has the same pale blue and white wallpaper that was there when I was an infant. The house was and is so special to me--special because my great grandparents were poor, but they owned this home. Special because my grandmother was never a rich woman, but then she owned this home. Memories, far more valuable than money, were made there. We were all raised in that house, in one way or the other.

When we lived in Maryland I had a lot of sleepovers at grandma's house. We had a special relationship and I used to love to go there, especially in the summer when we would walk to the corner and buy snow cones. It was on one of these weekends that I noticed a tiny china set in her china cabinet, what used to by my great grandma's china cabinet. My grandmother told me about her little tea set--a real, bona fide china little girl's tea set--and how it's missing some pieces. When she was a little girl she decided to have a tea party with her dolls and was hauling it down the basement steps, which were mere feet from where I was standing, and she tripped and dropped a couple of pieces. I can understand, those were some treacherous steps if I do say so myself. But all those years later, 60 years perhaps, and my grandmother still had the remaining pieces of that tea set sitting in the china cabinet, their place of honor. It was so special to her, and so it was special to me.

My mother came by today and delivered a bit of news... The state auctioned off her house. This house that's been in my family since it was piles of concrete and plaster was sold to the highest bidder. All because one woman didn't have the proper planning in place and her children couldn't find a way to resolve it.

The antique furniture inside? Auctioned as well. Because it was too heavy and too much of a bother for anyone to figure out how to move it.

And her china set? Gone too. My uncle removed some items, but my father didn't want to make the trip from Florida. And I can't help but think about that tea set. I can't help but wonder if whoever comes to clear the house out they will know the value of that little tea set. I think I know the answer...

It's hard enough for me to wrestle with the fact that for all intents and purposes, the grandmother that I know is gone. But hearing that her house, her furniture, her life's possessions, and yes, that tea set, are gone... just disposed of in such an orderly, unemotional fashion.... makes me feel like I've lost a part of myself, of my family's history.

I've lost that tea set. And with it, I've lost another little piece of my grandmother.

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