Perhaps due to our mother's unique personality and perspective, or because of the wide age range among us, or perhaps just due to geographic circumstances, our family has never been very close. By far the strongest relationship for the last ten years has been between Bruce's family and me. The weakest link is without a doubt our brother Ralph, who's visits with other family members over the same 10 year period can be counted on one hand.
As a friend points out (and I report below), with our mother gone, who will hold the family together? Current lives and homes aside, Riverside was our "home," and although I would not characterize our mother as a bonding element, a visit to her, although often difficult, was always a return to the family (and usually included a visit with eldest brother David, who lives nearby).
I had long ago resolved to handle this inevitable situation with as much grace and diplomacy as I could muster. In the months since my, indeed all of our patience, magnanimity, and maturity have been sorely tested. In some cases we've failed, in others, we've turned away from the struggle. We've each learned that there is no victory, only growth, understanding, and, at the root of it all, survival.
The Internet played a role in this saga from the outset. The news of Mom's death reached me by telephone. My brother David told me what had happened--she collapsed in the backyard, apparently planning to add water to the pool, the neighbors saw the water from the hose running down the driveway and called the police--then, struggling to have a rational conversation, he abruptly asked me if I'd liked his company's web page, which I'd visited a few days before.
Real communication via e-mail started the next day.
Date: Sun, Jan 14, 1996 5:31 PM EDT
Subj: THOUGHTS WHILE WAITING FOR DETAILS
Figured this is cheaper than the telephone, and it's just as easy to check Email as to make a phone call. I was thinking that we might be able to coordinate flights to arrive in California together. We could try to coordinate with my first flying to New York, or meeting in Chicago for the second leg. Don't know what's possible, but it's something to think about if you go United.
I am in a scheduling quandery here. I am supposed to be 1/2 of a training team conducting extensive training here next week . . . and the other half is coming down from Washington late Monday (and I don't have the home phone number). My program manager is off on a ski trip, and there is really no one else to call. I left a message on his answering machine.
I don't think David will hear/do/schedule anything until he hears from the Coroner which might not be until Tuesday - hope we get more than a day's notice to get out there. Don't know, guess I'm rambling.
Linda took it kind of hard - she wrote and called Mom a lot when I was travelling just to have someone to talk to. She's worried about you, too, and said she's glad you're back here on the east coast with us. Me too.
Well, just wanted get off a quick note.Love, Bruce
Needless to say, we did fly out on Tuesday and Wednesday respectively, arrange the memorial service, and begin going through the house. David had prepared a to do list. Our brother Ralph arrived on Thursday and helped clean the garage over the weekend.
Subj: WE NEED A PLAN
How's it going? As I recall, Ralph leaves today, so I suspect that long about Wednesday or Thursday you'll be asking yourself why the hell you're still there. The answer, of course, is so that I will have a friendly face to look at when I get back on Friday. The last week has been surreal, and I feel like I am just getting back to earth here this afternoon. I can definitely use a trip to Disneyland to retreat into childhood for a while. And that's why we need "A PLAN" (Hey! David has lists, I have plans).
Here's an initial suggestion . . .
After much consideration I do not think that there is a lot I can do by sticking around a few days longer - there is so much to repair that I would have to remain a week or two and I cannot afford the time away from work (or the expense). David will just have to manage it.
Well, let me know if you think the plan is viable, or what we need to change to make it so. I will need to change my return flight accordingly, but since these were "no refund" tickets there will be a charge to change flights and I only want to do it once - so I will wait until we have an agreed upon schedule.
Guess that's it for now. Take care. I guess you still have a lot of friends out there to keep you company (and I noticed ANDREW calls every day) - he sounds nice - but a bloodsucking lawyer????Love,
Date: Mon, Jan 22, 1996 6:32 PM EDT From: Miamc Subj: Re: WE NEED A PLAN To: BAMcCROS My comments (in reverse order):
>but a bloodsucking lawyer????
Yes, but he has a very low opinion of lawyers himself.
>if you e-mail Linda, don't mention I said anything about going
>to California (or Hawaii, for that matter).
Hawaii? Where's that?
>Here's an initial suggestion:
> 22 Jan - 26 Jan - (this week) You make initial contact with
>moving company to schedule pick-up during week of
>29 Jan - 2 Feb.
No problem with that. Ralph and I poked our heads into every cabinet and the garage, so I have a good idea of what's here (and what isn't).
> 27 Jan - 28 Jan - You and I identify things to ship, pack
>up what needs to be packed, put it all in one place (if possible).
I'll do a bit of that this week (already started). I'll get some boxes. I think we can fit it all at the fireplace end of the livingroom, but I may be wrong. Gloria is interested in the beds (I sure wouldn't pay to ship them). Ralph hardly took anything.
> 29 Jan - 2 Feb - I'm training in San Diego, you make
>trip to San Francisco with mover's pick-up scheduled around it.
Gloria offered to be here for the pick up if we have trouble scheduling it. I have to contact SF and confirm that a meeting that week works for them (it's probably not a problem).
>I will return Friday afternoon/evening depending on how
>early I can get away.
> 3 Feb - Disneyland.
> 4 Feb - We're outta there.
My only hesitation is that I was planning to go with friends to the Atlantic City boat show that weekend, and I could go ahead and plan to head home for it. But I'm leaning more toward your suggestion--I think I could use it too. Let me think on that for a day or so.
> long about Wednesday or Thursday you'll be asking yourself
>why the hell you're still there.
No, no. I need this time to say goodbye to the place and the spirits in it. I had a tough time this morning when Ralph left. I said we'd not seen each other in way too long, and he said, "well, these things happen, living in Indi-nowhere." Well, shit, they only happen if you let them.
And he kept seeking my guidance in going through stuff here. Who died and put me in charge? He's, what? 16 years older than me? Well, still waters run deep, I guess. But I can't help but get this sense of defeat from him--it's like he's not happy with life, but he's unable to take any action so he just floats along.
Well, in any case it was great to spend some time with him. We watched all of the films that we could get to work (but I'll watch them again over pizza, don't worry). By the way, my friend Dan warned me that decomposing films are very flammable (which I had known and forgotten). If I have time I may try to discard the lost parts and re-spool/splice the salvagable parts--we're going to have to act fast to save any of the 16mm. The super 8 is still okay.Back to The Plan:
I have a rental car for this week. I can probably fly to and from SF from Ontario airport and get a ride from Gloria. You'll have a car the two weekends you're here, so my only concern about ground transportation is any days I spend here next week. I'll deal.Love, Mia
Subj: A PLAN COMING TOGETHER?
If your heart is set on the boat show (and I remember your mentioning it before) don't hang around on my account. It would be fun - never tried Indianna Jones or Splash Mountain - but it's not like Ralph's situation where we may never see each other again. Hell, I plan on many many years of summer beach house and Christmas visits and plenty of contact in between. Bottom line: think it would be a nice release, but I also understand about priorities.
I have come to the conclusion that Ralph has become accustomed to doing his "intellectual doctor thing" while Barbara handles the demands of everyday life. He is at a loss when it comes to making those kinds of decisions. I agree with you that it was great getting to spend some time with him - he's sharp and certainly has the same type of sense of humor we have. I always enjoy his company and I think he enjoys mine, but at the same time I get the overall impression that he really doesn't care if he ever sees me again or not. Doesn't seem to be any genuine committment there.
Well, that's about it. I'll check on rescheduling flights and let you know.Love, Bruce
Date: Tue, Jan 23, 1996 7:34 PM EDT
Subj: HOW ARE YOU DOING?
Just got E-mail from Sean and Bruce, this is so cool. Where have I been all these years? Guess Bruce will be there in a few more days. How are you doing? Bruce mentioned you were going to San Francisco. I'm sure you won't go back to Riverside without their sourdough bread. You know, that's Bruce's favorite. Are you still tagging things? Bruce told me to think of things we might need or want. What about the toaster? You know, ours is without a handle. Also my vacuum cleaner is pretty bad here. The handle is also broken, must have a thing about breaking handles. . . .Love, Linda
Date: Wed, Jan 24, 1996 4:08 AM EDT
Subj: Re: HOW ARE YOU DOING?
So we need a post-it note color for you, too, huh?
The toaster is a functional, bagel-capable model with a working handle. You want it? It's yours. The vacuum crossed my mind this afternoon, but I don't really need it since our housekeeper does the vacuuming and I don't really care what she uses. So we'll see if it works and if so, off it goes to VB. I think Bruce has a tag on the microwave for Sean. And there is the TV, which I would take, but can't really argue that I need--not if you guys have a good use for it. There are pots and pans that might be handy if Sean gets an apartment next year (a big bird said that might happen). Of course, there are a couple that I want ...
I went through Mom's closets and dresser this evening. I was strangely unemotional about it. I guess most of her clothes are things she bought recently so they don't have memories for me. She did have some treasures tucked away, like a box of paperdolls that I'd forgotten exist. Do girls even know what paper dolls are anymore? We used to cut them out of magzines and paste them to cardboard. Overall, I'm doing okay--hell, the phone rings off the hook each evening, my New York friends calling from the office at the end of their work day. They all work until 9 and 10 p.m. their time, so they catch me around 6 my time. Tonight I was on from about 5 to 9:30. I've got to do some serious dollhouse packing tomorrow, and some work. Thursday I'm going to Laguna to visit a friend and use her computer and printer. Then Bruce comes Friday evening. Maybe I'll make pork chops ;->Mia
Subj: Re: A PLAN COMING TOGETHER?
>If your heart is set on the boat show
Nah, not really. I've been the last two years in a row. Besides, it runs two weekends and I could go the second one. I'd rather check out the Raider's ride, and I haven't done Splash Mountain either. But before we go you have to watch the movies of us there when I was about five--it made Ralph queasy just watching us on the Teacups ;->
>it was great getting to spend some time with him - he's sharp and certainly has the same type of sense of humor we have.
Yes, it was strange to find him so, well, familiar. We certainly had some fun at David's expense.
he really doesn't care if he ever sees me again or not.
Right. I guess I'm a little hurt by that.
Sometime last week Andrew wondered who would hold the family together now--he was sensing that Mom, or this house, had been a focal point. I said that you and I certainly won't have a problem, and that you see David fairly regularly, but that I do worry about losing Ralph.
I had a very pleasant conversation with Barbara on Monday--she called after he left.
So I've been through Mom's room. I found the little Mexican serape you brought her from Tijuana. It's in your pile. I started making a list of the items we're shipping, and picked up some more boxes to pack (the more we do, the less we pay). From the linen closet I pulled out stuff we (and I use the term losely) might want. Ralph and I figured that was the easiest way--when we're done, David can have the remainder hauled to Good Will.
I got a message from Linda. She wants the toaster and vacuum cleaner. Seems fine with me.
I don't know whether David called the lawyer--haven't talked to him since Sunday. I guess I'll call tomorrow, since Ken should be here and will want to know about gate access.
Thursday I'm going to Laguna to see some friends and use their computers and printers. I've got to pin down whether my client needs me in SF. I'll let you know my schedule when I can. I also want to see a couple friends in LA. Ahh, the social whirlwind.More Later,
Date: Thu, Jan 25, 1996 4:04 PM EDT
Subj: Update from the left coast
Gary from A&G called this morning about the "inurnment" schedule. Mom's being cremated tomorrow, and her remains will be back at A&G in the afternoon. We (I) can pick them up then or Saturday morning. David, when I called him with this info, said he thought A&G was supposed to deliver them to Olivewood. I don't have a note about that--do you? This is one cartage I don't mind performing--who'd begrudge give her this last ride?
I have to admit, however, that I do find the prospect of having her remains here overnight a little creepy. I'll be doing a little self analysis about that one today, and decide whether I want to go get them tomorrow or wait until Saturday morning (A&G opens at 8 a.m.).
I told David the cemetary needs to be paid so that they'll open the grave before we get there Saturday, and my notes say he has to sign something there. He wondered if the signature could wait until Saturday morning (meaning, I take it, that he's blowing off golf). He said he'd call them--maybe he can pay over the phone--and swing by there after work if necessary.
So we should be okay for Saturday.See you Friday,
Subj: THE ROCK AND THE HARD PLACE
I saw the will last time I was out there. I eventually read it and it was a standard "everything to be divided equally between my children" type of document. You are lucky Mom lived as long as she did, if you were a minor, you'd be in David's care (just as soon as he got a copy of the death certificate and called the lawyer, that is). The rest of the bank accounts are on the first list he passed out. Guess we need to make you a copy of it. I, quite frankly, would like to spend a quiet evening at the house, so if we must go back to David's, push for lunch after the inurnment if possible.
I think that David is overwhelmed. He has been able to ignore Mom and her house for so many years that the enormity of settling the estate and dealing with the house has him scared. I would certainly hope that once he gets started things will pick up -- but I'm not sure. It seems to me that he can only work sequentially.
You probably won't get this in time, but I though I'd suggest this anyway: perhaps you could pick up the urn at A&G and deliver it directly to Olivewood Friday afternoon. I would think they could keep it overnight. I certainly appreciate all you're doing to make this all come off. And by the way, you obviousy have not told the Bloodsucker much about me or he would not have "wondered if David was forgetting a LITTLE thing called Bruce..."
Looking forward to getting back tomorrow night and helping you wield the sword of progress against the dragon of doldrums.Love, Bruce
Date: Fri, Jan 26, 1996 3:50 AM EDT
Subj: Re: THE ROCK AND THE HARD PLACE
>You obviousy have not told the Bloodsucker much about me or he
>would not have "wondered if David was forgetting a LITTLE thing
Thanks for the late evening chuckle.
>I, quite frankly, would like to spend a quiet evening at the
>house, so if we must go back to David's, push for lunch after
>the inurnment if possible.
Now that I think about it, I see your point--you'll need to head to San Diego Sunday evening, right? So Saturday is your only evening.
I just got an e-mail from my client in SF. They'd like me to be there as early as possible Monday morning. I'll have to figure out the best way to get to the airport. I'm glad to have a firm commitment from them--now I can plan the rest of next week.
Excellent suggestion about the remains. I'll see about it tomorrow.Love, Mia
Date: Tue, Jan 30, 1996 7:28 PM EDT
Subj: IS IT GETTING TO YOU YET?
Hi! Just got letter from Bruce and he was telling me that he's so tired of going thru all that stuff at your Mom, and that he doesn't know how you have lasted as long as you did. He said that it's really stressful. He also mentioned the letters the kids wrote to your Mom and the one Sean wrote telling her all about how we were still going to DisneyWorld even thou we have to go home first. Bruce said it made him feel like crap! I remember heading back and that's all the kids talked about was going there. Yea, they were pretty disappointed; and now Bruce finding that letter. . . Poor Bruce -
Sounds as thou you two REALLY NEED a day at Disneyland!! . . .See you later
We had that day at Disneyland, although it got off to a rough start when the weather was iffy. On Sunday the 4th Bruce and I both flew home, leaving behind all our packed boxes and tagged furniture, with no definite plans for moving them.
Subj: Re: Hippo Rock
Well it took me an extra day to get caught up and ready to face the tasks ahead (or at least I think I'm ready).
You might send me a copy of the list you made of things that are in the shipment. The more I think about it the more sense it makes to contract with a mover at this end to pick up in Riverside and move here. Dealing with a local firm helps reduce the worry about the shipment disappearing (dissappearing? disapearing? dissapearing? . . . vanishing). What do you think? It's not like we're in such a hurry we (*I*) can't investigate at this end.
You know, at one point I walked by your room while you were in there packing something and noticed the diploma hanging on the wall. I thought to myself that I ought to remind you to pack it, but then got sidetracked with something and forgot all about it - sorry.
I agree with the advice you have been given, the last thing we want to do is make the house a show place because somewhere along the line you reach the point of diminishing returns. The obvious *plan* is to consult a realtor (or two) and see what they think has to be done to make the house marketable.
Well, send me the list when it's convenient and I will do some calling here for estimates.Love, Bruce
The list of belongings to be shipped--our family's legacy--reads like a junk shop inventory, even to me. So little of value, either cash or sentimental. And so expensive to move!
Date: Fri, Feb 9, 1996 1:40 PM EDT
Subj: We love lists
Here's the list you requested. The list of boxes may not be 100%. I counted them when I got back from San Francisco, but then we did some more packing. I've tried to account for that, but I may have forgotten something.1 Desk (for the record, the lock does not work, but the key is in the front of the left hand drawer inside)
2 Coffee tables
1 Cedar chest, packed with stuff
1 Kitchet table (with leaf)
1 Library table (the people I talked to didn't know what this was, so I said it's about the size of a kitchen table)
*1 Dictionary stand (dictionary not included)
2 Doll houses, small one boxed, large one sort of crated
1 Futon chair
4 Outdoor folding chairs
1 Sewing table (they had trouble picturing this one, too)
*1 Pachinco machine, wrapped in quilt
1 Small box of pachinco balls, sitting in the doll crib, needs to be taped shut
1 Easle (I can never spell this)
1 Full matress, very flexible
1 Doll crib (as opposed to a big collapsable child's crib)
1 Child's rocker
1 Child's table and two chairs
*1 Weed whacker
*1 Nut & bolt cabinet
*1 Toy player piano
*1 Basket with lid taped on (about 2.5 cubic feet)
**Piano and bench
2 Dish barrels
3 Large boxes (5 cu. ft)
12 Med boxes (3 cu. ft)
5 Small boxes (2 cu. ft)
1 Electronics box
*1 Picture box (big, flat)
*1 Clock box (for the record, the pendulum and key are wrapped in paper and stored inside the cabinet, along with that little lock that was inside it)
*1 Jug lady box
*1 Poster tube
*5 Cases (projectors, films, red jewelry which is wrapped up)
* I didn't include these items in the inventories that I had estimated because a) I forgot, or b) they didn't exist yet
**We're probably not shipping these, but I include them for the sake of completeness
Yeah, I kept reminding myself to grab the diploma, too. It would have fit into one of my file boxes, too.
About the house, it does seem to me local realtors would know best how to sell it (in fact, I remember saying something to that effect). I guess I should have called some while I was there twiddling my thumbs ;-)Love, Mia
Subj: I'VE BEEN THINKING
cc: Miamc, email@example.com
I know that's dangerous, but it just seems to come upon me at times.
I remember the "list" had a lot of house fixing-up items listed and upon reflection I am not sure that doing a lot of cosmetics will be worth the time or money. When it comes to things like floors and curtains it's just as easy (and sometimes easier) to turn buyers off with patterns and colors as it is to turn them on with the fact that it's a new floor (or new curtains). At any rate, I think the best way to proceed is to get a realtor (or a couple of them) in there to look it over and suggest the minimum fix up needed in order to fetch a fair price.
Along those same lines, we should also carefully consider re-plastering the pool. If the trade off is $1,000 off the price of the house versus $2,000 for re-plastering you know what my vote will be.
I have bought and sold enough houses and talked to enough realtors to know that when getting ready to sell there is a "fix-up" point of diminishing returns, and there are some things much more important to take care of than others, and the expert in the field is an experienced realtor.
Mia, Ralph, what do you think?
Let me know if there's anything I can help with. Obviously the first thing is to get all of those boxes and furniture moved and Mia and I are working on it - the problem is that after leaving we have remembered some of the stuff we forgot. We'll get it squared away, though.Bruce
Date: Fri, Feb 9, 1996 1:40 PM EDT
Subj: Re: I'VE BEEN THINKING
To: BAMcCROS, Mccroskey.David@corona.navy.mil,
firstname.lastname@example.org >the expert in the field is an experienced realtor.
Absolutely. Use the right tool for the job.
Aside from perhaps ascertaining whether or not the furnace works and maybe getting the carpets cleaned, I wouldn't do anything before having at least a couple experienced agents look at it.
It would be helpful to have estimates for some of the bigger jobs in hand, like the pool and painting.
I have a copy of the list and was able to eliminate several items (as in, they're done) and add a couple like what faucets drip.
So, David, how about a status report from your end? What does the attorney say about the timeframe on non-house related stuff?Mia
Date: Fri, Feb 9, 1996 8:59 AM EDT
Subj: WE AGREE WITH YOU
Your right about fixing up your Mom's place. I know my dad, who also had homes to sell, always said not to get into alot of money fixing it up. Paint thru-out the house, inside and out, have someone come in and do a good cleaning job (windows especially), and have lawn, cut and edged and bushes trimmed. If you start putting in carpeting, some people might not like what you choose, so it's best to just get it cleaned-up and painted. It's amazing what a little paint will do. I wished we lived close so that we could do it ourselves.Gotta go. Take care
We never received that update from David. Although he expressed frustration with the condition of the house, he did not respond to our offers of assistance, or even tell us to f**k off. Updates on the status of the estate have arrived from the attourney as form letters.
To preserve our emotional well-being, both Bruce and I have given up on having any input. We understand that David, as the man on the scene, so to speak, feels both responsible and burdened. We'd like to ease that burden, but we don't know how.
In the ensuing months the shipment was picked up (under Gloria's watchful eye) and delivered, and I rented a van and drove to Virginia to collect my share. It--or rather the cost of it--represented the single most difficult part of the whole affair. The strain it placed on Bruce and my relationship has not completely eased, although we're getting there.