Monday, January 24, 2011

The Fruit Room and Dread are Synonyms

My grandparents lived through the depression. This era forever altered their perception of what had value. During the depression, if you could reuse something, you did. You saved what little you had. I count myself lucky to not have lived through those tough years. As difficult as we now view the current economic times, they pale when placed next to building a house out of railroad ties and scrimping for the bare necessities.

Saving everything becomes more of a problem once you have more to save. You would think treasures would be found hidden in the depths of their house, but, for the most part, the things we discovered buried in the recesses of my grandparent's house were strange, frightening, or downright gross.

Don't get me wrong. I loved my grandparents. I loved to visit them. I loved their weird half bird half dog creature, Tina. She will appear in later posts. Their backyard was magical, filled with raspberries, tall grass, sour apples, and mysterious dark corners.

As I've gotten older, I do begrudge them a little that their hording blocked off access to the top floor. I barely knew it existed. Yes, I saw the windows and I have a dim memory of stairs, but those stairs dissappeared. I imagined there must have been some secret passageway to that area that I stumbled upon when I was younger. The upstairs lived in my mind as the domain of elves and gnomes, where unicorns fought dragons on lush fields of grass. The dusty old rooms I found later on as we pulled the stacks of boxes down nearly made me cry.

I had thought the door next to the bathroom was a closet, filled with stacks of paper plates, old raincoats, twisted wire hangers, broken toys. The stairs so blanketed with the ever so important objects that even the memory of them fell away to myth. Now, I think it would have been nice to use guest bedrooms and extra bathroom that lay above, rather than sleep in the freezing front room on the floor or curled up in the warmer TV room.

I remember the appalled looks on my grandparents faces when I tried to throw things away that they deemed worthy of safeguarding. I remember the weevils in the cereal boxes that came from the basement, sporting pictures of athletes I had never heard of. I remember the ramen that must have come from Ancient Mesopotamia with flavors that no one remembers mushroom and locust (the locust may be an exaggeration).

If the upstairs lived as some heavenly elf filled kingdom of light in my mind, the basement embodied the opposite. The darkness in the basement felt alive, tangible. I would hop the last steps on the way down and sprint up them in terror. Unfinished and uncarpeted, those steps breathed malice from the void beneath them. I felt certain that something lived there and would pull the unsuspecting boy or girl in to devour them. This may have been something my older brothers said to me or just my overactive imagination. I do not recall.

At the bottom of the stairs sat an unfinished basement full of stacks of this and that. We explored it during the day and avoided it at night. The basement also held the fruit room, a dank, dark, windowless room full of fifty years of food storage. One lone light bulb illuminated the depths, but you had to enter the room in the dark, walking through cobwebs to get to the light. As kids we would dare each other to stay in the room alone and in the dark for as long as possible. I don't think I ever made it past five or six seconds.

Then my grandparents passed away. We had to clean out the house. This included the unknown upstairs, the shed that had dissolved in on itself, and the fruit room.

We did some of the easier rooms first, finding marvels like twelve bags full of the rings that come off milk jugs when you open them. I do not know why they saved those. I could think of no use for them, even with my crazy imagination. My little brother and I were volunteered to start on the fruit room.

We put on masks, gloves, protective clothing and stepped into the nightmare of old bottles, rat droppings, half eaten boxes of cereal (from the inside out), and who knows what other toxic substances.

At first we looked at bottles and tried to guess what was in them. Tomatoes were easy. The acidity ate through the lids and the liquid crawled out, gave way to mold, and eventually dried out.
It reminded me of things I'd seen on Alien and later on Dreamcatcher.

I picked up another jar and looked at it for several minutes, trying to deduce what the grey blobs inside might have been.

I think they were peaches once upon a time.

I picked up another and, for the life of me, I could not figure them out. I stared and stared at the swollen bubbles inside. Brown bulbous things floating in brackish liquid. What had bubbles slightly smaller than marbles? What could this possibly be? I nearly dropped the bottle when I put it together.

"Holy crap! They're raspberries!" I yelled to my brother. "I may never eat raspberries again." I still have issues with canned fruit.

My brother and I carefully pulled each bottle and gingerly placed it in the dumpster. After about an hour of moving bottles of unknown substance, we started to care less how we placed them, throwing the bottles in and watching them shatter and splatter everywhere. Goo fell on our clothes and our masks, but we were too numb and too beyond revolted to care. We morfed into robots. Enter fruit room, pick up disgusting thing, cary disgusting thing out, throw it in dumpster, watch as it splatters us in filth, go back to fruit room, repeat process. Grey green liquid leaked out of the bottom of the dumpster and crawled off to the garage where it could breed nightmares or whatever ancient fruit decay breeds. We didn't care.

Another surprise waited for us in the fruit room, a chest freezer full of meat. The freezer had lost power sometime in the last four decades. Do you know what happens to meat in a sealed container for forty years? neither. I don't want to know, but I imagine it turns into some kind of meat pudding and then grows bacteria. The bacteria then continues to grow unaffected by the outside world until they evolve into super intelligent and intensely foul smelling single celled beings. They build their tiny rocket ships, wage wars, live, love, and die in the microcosm of the meat goo in the chest freezer as the rest of the world goes by unaware.

We pulled the freezer out and started to push it up the stairs out of the basement, somewhat happy in our productivity.
My strong, older brother took the bottom and pushed as we maneuvered it up the steps. It was heavy and we were tired. What happened next will live in infamy for all time. Someone slipped and the freezer rocked back. My brother's hand slid up the slick surface and popped the lid open as he leaned forward to put his shoulder against the freezer. This placed his head right there, right in the middle of all the microscopic breeding and meat goo.

I imagine the gas cloud. I don't remember seeing it, but what else would come out of the freezer? Not a splash of cool fresh air and daisies. I can tell you that much. My brother choked out a scream and let go of the freezer. The lid popped shut, but, with no one pushing, it slid down the steps and took out the sliding door.

We took a break and cleaned up the glass as my poor brother dry heaved away in a corner. We then used an entire roll of duct tape on the freezer lid and finished the job.

I used to argue with my brother that my job that day was worse. I moved thousands of bottled nastiness out to the dumpster, brown and grey goop splattering on my clothes. I dug through hantavirus infected piles of grains, cereal, flour, and who knows what else. I am permanently altered by the experience.

Now, I tend to agree with him that he got the worst of it. I spent hours in filth and he spent only a couple seconds with his head in the meat freezer, but imagine what that might have been like as the intelligent bacteria launched their biological weapons at the intruder and then marched to war through his nostrils.

I'm not sure what the meat bacteria may have done to him. I've watched and waited. He survived, thankfully. He has yet to develop super powers though...unless the ability to clutter, blow a straw wrapper at me every time we eat out, or screech like a banshee when he hiccups are his lame super powers. I also keep constant vigil in case the bacteria took over his brain and are now intent on claiming the planet as their own. So far, world domination does not seem to be on the menu...but I keep my eyes open.


Michelle said...

Ha ha! I believe I was hiking in Switzerland at that moment. :)

Alex said...

I'm glad this is your experience and not mine!!!

J.J. Bennett said...

I'm afraid that will be the EXACT experiance I'm going to have someday when I have to clean out my mothers storage room. It's going to be a nightmare...

Charlie Pulsipher said...

@Michelle - You are such a slacker.

@Alex - Thanks. You always know what to say Ü

@Jennifer - Sorry. It really wasn't pleasant. Fun to look back on now, but during was not at all.

Jenny in NC said...

I didn't think anything could be worse than my grandma's basement, but your story wins. My grandma hoarded clothes. Clothes don't stink. 100+ pairs of shoes, and bags and bags of clothes from DI (oh, and a Ouija board that would NOT let itself be thrown away) are nothing compared to a freezer full of rotten meat.
The upside of all this is that I am the complete opposite of a hoarder. I don't want my kids to have to clean up after me when I die.

Anonymous said...

"nightmare or old bottles, rat droppings, half eaten boxes of cereal"

I think the or should be an of....L2Spell.

The Bactria is patient.

Anonymous said...

Oh .... and talk to mike about the hunta virus shed....I would have rather have the fruit room.

THe grass is always greener

Blue Dragon Arts said...

oh yes, writing is definitely your area! If you and Jared ever write together I'm doomed.

Annie said...

This was the best blog post ever. Made my whole rotten day :) Thank you, Charlie

FriendlyOcelot said...

Dude. -Awesome.

Charlie Pulsipher said...

@Jenny - Clothes don't sound near as bad, but Ouija boards freak me out more than a little. I am also the opposite of a hoarder thanks to the experience.

@Mark - I think you correcting my grammar is one of the signs of the apocalypse. I am patient too. I will keep watching you. Creepy, huh?

@Blue Dragon - Love your name. Jared and I may end up writing something together once I have more time. Everyone is doomed!

@Annie - Always happy to raise your spirits my friend.

@Friendlyocelet - Thank you! I was sick when I did this one and I was worried that it wouldn't be as good as my previous posts. I'm glad people like it.

Brent Wescott said...

I have an old refrigerator in my garage. It's currently buried in a corner, but I dread the day I'll have to move it, praying I'll never have to open it...

Charlie Pulsipher said...

@Brent - Make sure you duct tape it first. Learn from our mistakes.

Morgan said...

Ha ha that is how my grandparents were too! When I was sent in to the fruit room, I was terrified! lol

Charlie Pulsipher said...

As you should have been, Morgan.

Angela Ackerman said...

OH my goodness. This was like reliving my Grandmother's trailer when she finally made the move to assisted living.

The things we found are very much like you described. My grandma had a crawlspace for her canning from decades and decades ago. It was scary going through it, finding dead animals and black jars. Thank goodness she didn't have a dead freezer down there. If what happened to your brother had happened to me, it would have done me in, I swear.


The plus side of the experience is that I have no issues tossing/donating what I do not use. No hoarding for me!

Angela @ The Bookshelf Muse

Charlie Pulsipher said...

So true, Angela. There is nothing like an experience like this to make you throw stuff away. The only thing I hoard is furniture, but I refinish it and sell it eventually.

Now I am truly famous. I have had a comment from Becca and Angela from The Bookshelf Muse. They are literary blog royalty. Ü

Angela Ackerman said...

Haha, you are so funny! Royalty, I wish! Just a chick with a blog trying to get published like everyone else. But thanks, you are sweet.

BTW, I freaking love the cartoons you have with your posts. Better than bacon, I'm telling you (and I don't throw around the B word lightly).

*hugs bacon*

Angela @ The Bookshelf Muse

Danyelle said...

*grins* Awesome! Love the visuals. :D I think the Depression had a lasting impact on a lot of people. My grandpa was the same way with hoarding.

Charlie Pulsipher said...

@Angela - Better than bacon!?!? *fights crying* I think that is the nicest thing anyone has ever said to me.

@Danyelle - Thank you. Here I thought I was alone with the hoarder grandparents, but there seem to be quite a few out there.

Montag said...

I know exactly what you mean. I also know the exact sequences in the Alien series (bottles) and Dreamcatcher (rashes and microbes).

We called the storage room the "fruit cellar" and the room for temporary storage and preparation was the "fruit room".

People that hoard have very active imaginations.

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