Home is where the heart is.
We had the most interesting weekend. Last week, we learned that the Burdett family (meaning us, Shannon's parents and sisters) inherited the contents of a woman's home after her death. This woman, Charline, was a client of my father-in-law's law practice and he and my mother-in-law became good friends with her. She did not have children of her own and fell in love with Shannon and his two sisters. She married late in life after caring for her parents until their death. Tom, my father-in-law, had helped her with some oil and gas wells on her property which made her VERY wealthy. Charline was so grateful of his legal work and the friendship that developed between them that when she married she asked Tom to walk her down the isle. The Burdett children even took part in her wedding as flower girls and ring bearer. Her will stated that her husband and his sister could stay in the home until his death and then the sister was to go to a nursing home until her passing. Charline was very generous and cared deeply for people and made sure her will exemplified this. She had arranged for the cost of the nursing home so that her sister-in-law would be taken care of with out worry. However, the executor of her estate did not follow this and allowed the sister to live in Charline's home until her death a few day ago, long after her brother's death.
Saturday morning we arrive at her home in Weatherford, Texas to begin collecting items we would like to have and sort what through would be sold in the estate auction. We were SHOCKED to see the state of the house. It was in horrible bad shape, to say the least. Charline had passed away from Parkinson's disease about 15 years or so ago and I don't think the home had been cleaned let alone repaired since that day. It was absolutely sickening to see how this beautiful, large home was wasting away. Over the years, home health care was brought in to care for Charline's husband and his sister after her death and they were responsible for contacting the executor, who held power of attorney, for any household repairs needed. Nothing, absolutely nothing, was done. The roof had leaks, the plumbing was in bad shape, the ceiling had even collapsed in one room upstairs. There was evidence of mice. The dust was so thick in places you couldn't tell the color of the upholstery. It stunk of mildew and abandonment. It was so heartbreaking to think that an elderly woman lived out her last days in this place. The house felt as though it had been vacated years ago when in fact, the sister had died less than a week before. Charline would have been appalled by this. At one time, this was one of the nicest homes in Weatherford, now, it will take an exuberant amount of money to make it livable again.
As we were sorting through Charline's items, it dawned on me, we were looking through her life. All of her stuff was still there even after all these years. Her clothes were still in the closets, underwear and personal item in the dressers. We discovered the love letters she and her husband exchanged before marrying. Family photos and property deeds dating back to the late 1800's were stashed in an upstairs closet where the ceiling had collapsed from water damage. We found family heir looms just tossed aside. Furniture piled on top of furniture. Pictures on the wall hung crooked as though someone looked behind them for hidden treasure. The floor was littered with trash and lint. Terribly, terribly sad.
Each room I entered just overwhelmed me with a sense of despair. This is what happens when a person doesn't have children or other family to look after their best interests when they are incapable of doing so for themselves. The executor and home health care workers failed miserably in their duties. They took advantage of these people in their weakest state. Sickening. It was clear that the house had been pillaged at some point and evidence of some looting. It's unclear who did this or how it happened. What is clear is the neglect of the supposed care takers.
As we sorted and decided what to take, I began to feel a deep anger rising inside me. Anger for the way these people had been left to die in a rotting house. Anger that their "care takers" could have cared less. So much emotion welled up. Along with the anger surfaced a deep and gut wrenching sadness. A broken heart for the loss of their dignity and helplessness. It was emotionally exhausting. I began to look at each item, desiring to bring it home and restore it to the life it once knew. To give it the care these poor people had not received in their last days. The items I've chosen will forever carry the memory of what I saw. I do not want to forget this experience.
We had the boys with us too. They gained some valuable knowledge of what happens when you don't have family. They witnessed the result of the executor's lack of care and responsibility. They were wide eyed and disgusted by the shape the home. They began to understand and appreciate the value of being a good steward. Each one chose some things to bring home and make theirs with a little TLC. This was an experience, I'm sure, they'll never forget. Nor, will we.
As I worked cleaning a jewelry box that dates back to 1784, I thought about how it came to be in my hands. How many miles it had traveled, the things it had held, and the many hands that had touched it. When Shannon found it, it was hard to tell what kind of shape it was in. The dust was so thick, you could hardly read the inscription in the tarnished brass plate. The wood was so dry and the crevices so full of dust it looked like and old fence post. I worked oil into the dry wood and used a soft toothbrush to remove the dust and dirt in the wormwood marks. As the thirsty wood drank up the oil, it slowly began shine. I was moved by the thought that now, this beloved jewelry box has a second chance. It will become an heirloom in our family. A memory of what can happen when someone is alone and uncared for. We are given a chance to restore it's beauty and value and to give honor to the people who once treasured it.
This is an experience none of us will ever forget. It is also one I don't want to ever forget. It was powerful, moving and very humbling. It opened our eyes and made us grateful for the closeness we share with our families. I never want to take it for granted, never.