Tracy has been taking care of her mother’s estate for some time, a process interrupted by the death of her sister, her own battle with breast cancer, and my minor surgery some time back. Not to mention the sort of thing that usually crops us up in really, really bad family films which on screen have smarmy happy endings but in real life . . .
Anyhow, she is close to settling the estate, which will make her life a great deal easier.
One of the parts of taking care of an estate which includes a house is the upkeep of the house itself. Not merely the furnishings, and the eventual estate sale, but the upkeep of the house and the outside areas.
Soon after - oh, so soon! - after my mother-in-law died, a “friend” of hers from church ( one has no way of actually knowing the closeness of these friendships if one doesn’t actually live in the town itself) came forward and offered to take care of the property till the estate was settled, out of a sense of the closeness he felt with Tracy’s mother.
Tracy got a reduced rate - sort of the “bereavement rate,” I suppose.
We never heard very much from him, except to remind us it was time to send more money. When we wanted to set up simple things like features which would have lights come on and off and different times, setting the timer seemed a little beyond him.
This spring, we got a letter from the folks in the local city government, along with a photograph of the property, telling us that a hearing was to take place, and a lien put on the property unless it was fixed, since city crews would be forced to clean it up, and we’d have to pay for that.
At this point I should mention that even though I have written (and will continue to write) about the Dark Heart of America, the folks in local government are pretty damned nice and easy to work with.
I called “our guy” out in Western Oklahoma.
"Tom," I said, “we got this letter from the city.”
“I’m there right now!” he said. “We’re spraying for weeds and cutting grass and taking care of everything.”
Good enough,Tom,” I said. “We’ll see you next week.”
I think that Tom thought we must have been going to walk from Fayetteville, because the fact hat we showed up when we did was a complete shock to him. What was a complete shock to us, though, was the fact that the property looked exactly the way it did in the picture. The weeds in the driveway, the trash, the unkempt bushes.
I pulled out my cell phone and said, “Hey, Tom, we’re in town and need to talk about the house.”
“I can there tomorrow,” he said. “What hotel are you staying at?”
“We’re at the house, Tom," I said quietly.
“We’ll be there in an hour!” he promised. And sure enough, he was, with his young assistant. I showed him the photograph, and pointed out the same growth that was in the picture.
He shook his head and said, “The grass sure does grow fast around here!”
And so does bullshit, Tom, I thought.
That night, Tracy and I figured out what she had been paying him, compared to what he had actually been doing, and figured he had been overcharging her - no doubt his own way of dealing with his grief.
Needless to say, a “Dear Tom” letter was the result of all his.
Which left us looking for someone to replace him.
“Oh, no, we’ve way too much work to take on new customers,” was the familiar refrain we heard from those who advertised in the Yellow Pages or o the Internet. Finally, someone doing some work on the house recommended someone, who couldn’t do the job himself, but brought his son . . .
Well, he went outside the house, and pointed out to us the screw-ups the previous guy had made. Yes do the job. Yes, he was dependable. And indeed, while we were there, he was coming over and working very hard, and the place was looking much better.
Fifty dollars for two weeks work, and he was calling in eery week to report on progress. We had actually found someone dependable.
And so it came to pass that my dependable worker asked me for an advance on his pay. He was in some financial straits, and his father had been in the hospital a few weeks before with heart problems . . .
“Why, sure, Brandon” I said. Yes, P.T. Barnum would have loved me.
And so this guy in Fayetteville wires this young guy in western Oklahoma $150 - six weeks advance pay - and he is so grateful. Cool. We’ll see you in a few weeks.
We hadn’t planned on coming out to Oklahoma this quickly, but we got yet another letter from he city, only this time not accompanied by a letter. I spoke to the city, and complained that we were being harassed because the house wasn’t being sold fast-enough to suit some of the people on the street.
Well, some of them are annoyed about that, but that’s a blog for another day.
Last week, I called and left a message on his phone to remind him we were coming in. The next day, his phone is disconnected.
I manage to get hold of his work phone; he then disconnects that, so no messages can be collected.
iHs wife acts like I am a Mafia don when I call her and ask her to remind her husband that we’d be in last night. She stops answering her phone after that one call.
Okay, she’s busy.
We drive up to the house, and dark suspicions begin to sprout within us like kudzu. The drive-way looks like crap, this guy hasn’t even bothered to rake the grass after mowing it, and the bushes look like crap.
I open the front door and go into the backyard before I open the garage door for Tracy.
There, standing before me, stood something out a John Wyndham-inspired nightmare.
Bushes lunged over the patio like drunken sailors, and was literally five-feet tall stood to my left, standing guard like proud parents over the slightly smaller area of grass that surrounded them.
They say the Grinch’s heart shrank three sizes that day.
“Brandon,” I hissed. I began leaving messages on his mother’s phone - the only contact number left to us. Some time later the poor woman called me, and we discussed his son’t conduct, and his paranoid behavior in the past week, especially since he knew that we were coming to town.
I drank a beer - something I rarely do, anymore - and Tracy and I began to rake the drive-way and pull weeds.
The front looks a little better today, but the back yard still looks like a cross between the set of a Tarzan movie, and the Last Stand of the Triffids.
I’m still angry, but the rage of last night I felt is gone. We have taken steps to have the situation remedied. We haven’t quite decided yet on our response to this.
Still, Brandon, I’ll bet it seemed like a brilliant idea on your part at the time, didn’t it?
Quote of the Day
Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler. - Albert Einstein