Death By Clutter

Death By Clutter

Yesterday being Friday, an incoming e-mail from WordPress alerted me to their First Friday site, where new bloggers can publish their first post and get feedback on their writing, their layout, any tips on what could improve their site. I enjoy spending half an hour or so checking out some of the new blogs and sometimes leave a tip or two for newbies.

One of the sites I came across on First Friday was this one from a Nebraska poet: A Life Simply Lived. While she appears to have other blogs already, her first post on this site was about the how and why of dealing with clutter. She offers some fairly standard advice; The FlyLady would approve. 🙂  Click here to read 8 Steps to Simplify Your Life

Reading her post reminded me of this story from years ago:

When we lived in SW Ontario we read a news item one day describing a tragic account of the deaths of two elderly men who lived alone on a farm or an acreage in Perth County.

It seems these two brothers subscribed to the daily papers and never threw any away. Who knows exactly why hoarders hoard? There’s usually some valid reason that starts it off, but then something clicks in a person’s brain and they become helpless to stop themselves. So it was with these two. Possibly they thought they may someday need to look up some information.

Anyway, they stacked their old papers against the walls of their little house, and when those spaces were all filled, they moved in a row. This process kept on until they had newspapers stacked as high as they could reach in every room of the house, with tunnels going through like a maze.

By this time the one brother was bedfast and the other was caring for him, going out for groceries, cooking and such. Then one day one of the walls of newspapers came down in a avalanche on top of the caregiver brother and killed or completely mobilized him. At any rate he died fairly quickly, while the other brother, unable to leave his bed, likely died of thirst.

They’d been dead for some weeks before their bodies were discovered. A self-inflicted tragedy.


Talents & Frustrations

Today is my dear husband’s 75th birthday. Quite a milestone! We celebrated officially last Sunday night after a church function, and are looking forward to a dinner out with the family tomorrow. Of course he blogs about it on his site, mentioning all the things that have changed since he was a boy.

What really scares me is the thought that the next twenty years will go by just as fast as the last twenty. Whatever happened to “old age, when the hours would drag by”? We find the flight of time incredible!

I can assure you that in his youth Bob was a studious lad just like the young fellow below. I don’t know if there was ever a “Willy Brown” in his school to be jealous of, though. Hope this poem gives you a smile.


My teacher says that I’m the best
And smartest boy in school;
I’m never careless like the rest;
I never break a rule.
If visitors should come to call,
She has me speak a piece,
Or tell what makes an apple fall
Or binds the coast of Greece.
You might expect that since my brain
Holds such an awful lot,
I’d be extremely proud and vain;
But, oh–I’m not.
For Willy Brown’s a cleverer lad
Than I could hope to be;
Why, I’d give anything I had
To be as smart as he!
He can’t recite, “Hark, Hark, the Lark,”
He’s not the teacher’s pet;
He never gets a perfect mark
In ‘rithmetic — and yet,
Could I be he, I’d waste no tears
On foolish things like sums;
For Willy Brown can wag his ears
And dislocate his thumbs.

Author’s name unknown to me.

But I’m NOT Pearl

I said, “Hello?”
And the elderly woman said,
“Hello, Pearl.
How are you today?”

I said, “Fine. But I’m not…”
She said, “You sound
quite perky this morning.”
I said, “Well, I am. But you have…”

She sighed. “Yes, too much
time. The days get so long.
So I hope you have
a few minutes.
“I’m feeling quite
lonesome today, Pearl.”

I said, “I’m sorry to hear that.
But I’m not…”
And she said, “I’m glad for you.
It’s no fun feeling so
alone. I don’t wish it
on anyone.”

I said, “You’re right.”
And she said. “But I’m glad
you’re always willing to lend
a listening ear, Pearl. You’re
a wonderful friend.’”

So we talked for two hours,
even if I’m not Pearl.

—Christine Goodnough

Word Press daily prompt: Protest

Carl Was A Curiosity

Continued from yesterday…

One day an ambitious little spider made its way down from a ceiling, slid down a wall, crept over an old fashioned roller blind, then down the cord one might use to pull the blind down or up. But this blind, hanging in the living room of an old red brick house, was never pulled down or up. It had hung part-way down for a decade or more and no one moved it. No one removed the spider, either.

Sensing itself secure, the spider began to make its web. Swinging from the end of the cord toward the nearby window frame it attached one of its silky threads to that. Then it repeated the process until it had completed its web. And this web, as it was fashioned, eventually pulled the cord sideways.

Neighbours going by smiled when they saw the cord hanging at an angle. This was Carl McNeil’s house and we all knew that, though he kept his garden in good order, he wasn’t bothered with housework. He occupied two rooms, his kitchen and his bedroom upstairs. Since he never invited anyone into his house, no one really knew what it looked like inside but we judged a lot by that one cord hanging crooked for years — and the fact that the half a bucket of water Carl got from Giff Pomeroy’s pump once a week wouldn’t be cleaning very much. That was Carl’s bath water.

Carl was a faithful attender of the United Church in Fullarton. Town folks said it with kindness and a smile, but they admitted it took an extra bit of charity to sit near Carl on days when the church building was especially warm. Soon Marguerite would be telling him, “Carl, it’s time to send your clothes to the cleaners again.”

At the end of October, as the town children prepared to go trick or treating, Carl would go down to the store to buy a bag of treats to hand out. For years he bought a bag of marshmallows and gave one to each of the children that called at his door. Then one year he discovered mini-marshmallows so he bought a bag and generously gave each child several. Since this worked so well, he continued to shell out this way. Was he such a miser, or did he think most children at the time were getting enough sweets?

Carl’s only known health problem was his need for a pacemaker. The first one installed did him for years but when he was 85 the battery needed to be changed. As I recall, he was feeling odd for a few days, so a neighbour took him to a hospital in London, ON, where he had the procedure done. He was supposed to stay there for a couple of days and properly recover after the surgery. However, he wanted to be home, so the next morning he signed himself out, walked downtown to the bus depot and caught the bus for home.

He got off the bus at Russeldale, a village along the highway and the nearest stop to home; from there he walked the three miles to Fullarton. But when he got home he found his neighbour had locked the door and Carl didn’t have the key with him. So off he went to Giff Pomeroy’s shed and borrowed Giff’s long wooden ladder, which he carried to his house and set up to reach his second-storey bedroom window. He climbed up, pushed his window open, and crawled into the bedroom. Then he went back outside and returned Giff’s ladder.

Carl rarely left his home, but once or twice a year he took the bus to Kitchener, a city about an hour away, for the day. Of course it gave the villagers lots of opportunity to speculate on what he did there all day. Once an acquaintance saw him being met at the Bus depot by a young woman, which gave rise to even more speculation. He had no known family other than MacDougald cousins. A bit worried in case Carl might be victimized somehow, his friends raised tactful questions but Carl was secretive about those trips. Perhaps he simply liked to have a bit of mystery about his life, something to keep folks guessing.

When Carl died and his will was read, he made national news. He’d calculated what each citizen’s share of the National debt was and had bequeathed the government of Canada a check to pay off his portion.

John Richardson, MP for Perth-Wellington-Waterloo, praised Carl’s actions in the House of Commons with these words:

“Mr. Speaker, today (Oct 31, 1994) I was fortunate to take part in a presentation ceremony during which a cheque for $37,634.61 from the estate of Carl McNeill was presented to the Government of Canada.

Mr. McNeill was a 100-year old resident of my riding who was worried about the legacy of debt that had been left to the younger generation. Mr. McNeill left specific instructions in his will that the money be given to the federal government in order to pay off his share of the national debt to ensure a better future for others.

Walter and Marian MacDougald, long time friends and neighbours of Mr. NcNeill, presented the cheque to the Minister of Finance this morning. In addition to Mr. McNeill’s donation to the government he also left a substantial amount of money to the University Hospital in London and the Salvation Army.

Carl McNeill set a tremendous example of the kind of patriotism and national loyalty for which all Canadians can strive. I thank him on behalf of all Canadians for his generosity and concern for our great country.

Carl Was A Character

We came to know Carl McNeil back in the early 80s when we moved into the small village of Fullarton in southwestern Ontario. A neat, pleasant, soft-spoken, still-quite-robust man in his 80s, he lived alone in a huge old house on the main street of this village that grew up along the intersection of two important roads. (I think we counted about 26 homes in total.)

Our next-door neighbour, Marie Hoppenrath, told us about the time she was out mowing their lawn and Carl stopped to chat. A bit of background here: the H’s lived in a bungalow on a large property at the edge of the village. They had a small garden in their backyard, but otherwise over an acre of lawn to mow. Most of this they did with the riding mower, but had a push mower for the narrower bit around the house.

Anyway, as Marie was working around close to the house with her push mower, along came Carl McNeil. He watched her for a bit, then told her, “You know, if you’d dig up all this lawn and make it into garden, you’d have a lot less work.” I’m sure Marie was tactful enough not to laugh right then, but she did later as she told us about this bit of advice he’d given her.

Whether said in good humor or if he was totally serious, Carl lived by this principle himself. Though he didn’t have such a huge lot, it was indeed all spaded up and planted every spring. He grew a few potato plants and I remember seeing a few raspberry bushes near the house, but most of his yard was planted with white beans (or navy beans. The kind used for pork & beans.) Carl, ever a home-body, spent his summers puttering around keeping the garden weed-free.

Every fall he’d harvest his crop of beans and during the winter he’d “combine” and sort them on his kitchen table. Then he’d take his bags of perfect beans to Thompson’s, a big grain elevator in Mitchell. Rumor had it that the owner himself bought Carl’s beans for the Thompson family’s use. He dug up his yard by himself until he was in his 90’s, then consented to let his next-door neighbour till it up for him, but he made a garden right up until he went into a nursing home at the age of 98.

Carl was Mr & Mrs McNeil’s only child and I gather his mother was rather a doting one. He apparently had a girl-friend when he was 20-ish, but she didn’t meet Mother’s ideals so the romance never got off the ground. Too bad! When he was young he went to business college but no one ever talked of him holding a job. If he did, it couldn’t have been for long.

When his father died, Carl inherited the farm. The land in this part of Ontario needed to be tiled or the heavy spring rains would drown the crops out, so farmers trenched their land and laid down clay tiles. This was mostly done with a some kind of trenching machine, but Carl, being an ambitious sort with a strong back, dug in every foot of drainage tile all across his farm. Little wonder he was so hunched over in his old age. (Farms in SW Ontario were typically 100 acres.)

When his mother got old, they bought this two-storey red brick house in the village and moved in. Apparently as long as she was alive things were kept in running order but after she died Carl didn’t have much idea about housekeeping or mechanics. Likely there was a working furnace in the house when they bought it, but by the time we knew him, Carl was heating only the kitchen in the winter, by means of an oil-burning space heater, and sleeping upstairs in his unheated bedroom. Brrr…!

Folks say the plumbing system worked, too, when mother and son moved in but in time something went wrong — a washer wore out or the pump needed repair — so Carl had no more running water. Fortunately, Giff Pomeroy, who lived a few houses down, had an old hand pump out in his yard and it still worked. Once a week Carl would take a bucket down to Giff’s and get his weekly ration of half a bucket of water. (About 3 gallons.) This did for all his washing and cooking needs.

He told my husband once that he’d never tasted tea or coffee, so he wouldn’t have used up his precious supply for that. He may have drank some of it, but his main liquid refreshment came through the bottles of orange pop he’d buy a couple times a week at the village store. As for doing laundry, every now and then Marguerite, owner & clerk at the store, would get a whiff and tell him, “Carl, it’s time you sent your laundry to the cleaners.” So he’d bring some clothes to the store and Marguerite would send them off with the dry cleaning van.

Carl had made quite a name for himself by the time we moved into the village and folks had some interesting stories to tell about his doings. Maybe I’ll write more tomorrow, and you can read more about him here: A Man of Simple Tastes. Apart from needing a pacemaker, Carl enjoyed good health all through his senior years. As I said earlier, he went into the nursing home at age 98 and lived there only about 18 months, if I recall correctly. He celebrated his 100th birthday there, then died not long after.

The SILENCE of the APP

I tried to shut my computer down last night — and found that I couldn’t. The button I’ve clicked on heretofore was there, but it didn’t bring up the usual. In its place popped up some new screen with a number of little boxes, some of them quite puzzling; of course none of these said a simple, “Shut Down” or “Turn off computer.” I did some clicking here and there, but alas, no “OFF” did I find. So I left my computer to blip away in the silence of the midnight and went to bed.

I was awake early this morning and came to check how my computer had fared while I was away. I clicked on the box that brought up this new screen and had a good look. At one point I clicked one spot and got an audio introduction to what is supposedly the 10th Anniversary Windows update “Activity Center, showing two sections. (I’d go back and listen to this again to confirm the name but I can’t remember now which button to click to bring it up again.) I didn’t find the second half of the control panel that the video said should be there, but maybe someday…

Anyway, here I was facing this one half of the “Activity center” and I did actually finally find the button that would shut down my computer. So the thing can get a good night’s sleep from now on.

I wasn’t thrilled with all these icons for computer games. Apart from Lumosity, which is supposed to improve my brain and thinking ability, I don’t play computer games and don’t need all these clutter-some apps. So I poked around and discovered I could delete the icons.

From then on things took a bad turn. I clicked on a little icon that said PS in a square. I thought I’d move it over because my deletions had made holes. Instead of it moving, it somehow “fused” to my computer screen. From then on I had a “PS in a square” staring silently, reprovingly at me from every screen I opened. From the middle of my Desktop wallpaper. From the middle of a WordPerfect document. “Just try figuring out how to get rid of me and I’ll short circuit your brain!”

I clicked on this and that but of course I found no buttons for “Help” or “Tech Support” or “Contact.” I thought to myself, “Oh, dear. Now I need one of those young men with an earring.”

This refers to an older very conservative Mennonite man and a customer service rep he’d dealt with one time. Charles ran a small business in a rural area of northern Brazil, plus he put out a small newsletter sharing community news. Back circa 1980 he found himself in need of a new copier so he contacted one company and they sent out this young rep — a personable young man with an earring in one ear.

Charles frowned. A man with an earring? Not done in his world. This suggested a lack of taking life seriously. More like, “Yeah, yeah. Right on, man. Whatever.” Charles wondered how much this hippy-type fellow would know about his product line, or how much would he care about Charles’ particular business needs?” But as he sat down and listened, the young man clearly explained their product line and in particular which models would best suit which of Charles’ needs the best. Finally Charles had to conclude this young rep really knew his stuff, that in judging the man’s ability by his earring, he’d jumped to a foolish conclusion.

So it goes these days: seniors calling out the tech support may find themselves opening their door to someone with orange spiked hair or a nail through their nose, but the service rep fiddles his or her fingers half a dozen times on the keyboard or remote and voilà! Problem solved. And they are usually quite personable sorts or they wouldn’t be sent as tech support in the first place. The only fault I have with these young folks is they often talk too fast for a slower older brain.

Back to this morning’s computer woe: PS in a square. In the silence of the morning I pondered my dilemma. I did discover the PS stands for Photo Shop, but since I couldn’t find that one in the list of apps, how could I control it? Clicking on the icon did nothing; for some reason the whole activity center screen was paler and sort of fuzzy.

I finally shut my computer off, with a prayer that God — who understand all the inner workings of everything He’s created, either electronic waves or human minds — would come to my rescue and undo whatever I’d messed up. And when I turned it back on, the square with the PS had evaporated. Thanks be!

Since then I’ve taken several more exploratory trips through this activity center and discovered how to log onto Saskatoon weather, and how to operate the alarm. Success! This went off at 9:30 am sharp to remind me to take my pill. And in another small corner I discovered the control for the volume of the computer’s speaker. It’s been annoying not to know how to control that.

Now maybe next time I’m in town, if I see some tech-savvy reps — with or without earrings — at one of the cell phone booths in the mall, I can get them to show me how to set up my phone up to receive my incoming e-mails. So much to learn!

Daily Prompt word: Silence