Papa died when I was in junior high, so Grandma had the place all to herself for six years, until she couldn't take care of herself anymore and we moved her into a nursing home. She died right before my junior year of college. There was four years of dust everywhere when I moved in.
My parents bought the place for Grandma and Papa back in '71, right after they got married. It's actually an apartment building, but it looks and feels like an old house from the '40s. Wood and stucco, balconies and porches, a duplex and a yard and a triplex, all sandwiched between 14th Street and an alley with two block-style apartment buildings on either side. It certainly stands out from most of the buildings on the street, if not most of the buildings in my part of Santa Monica, California. I can actually stand in my backyard and look up and see the sky, feel the breeze, escape the crushing urban sprawl. I'm very lucky to live here.
But I sure didn't feel like it when, two days after graduating from college, I showed up at the place with a car-load of stuff and no real place to sleep. My roommate and I crammed into one of the little one-bedroom units and started working our buns off.
The place, to put it bluntly, was a dump. Aside from the four years of dust, there was a ragged, lime-green carpet that had probably been there since the 40's, cracks in the walls from the Northridge quake, ten years of grime in the sinks and bathtub, and more random leftover crap than you'd believe.
Old umbrellas. Old papers. Old envelopes. Old everything. My grandparents were notorious packrats, a habit left over from their refugee days from World War II. They'd lost everything except a suitcase and Dad in the war, wandering from Lithuania to Austria to Germany, from one displaced persons camp to another. I can almost see why they'd grab poentially useful stuff and hold on to it. But what the hell use they had for butcher paper and styrofoam meat trays from ten years ago, I have no idea; we found the kitchen cupboards full of them. Broken chairs, a million coat hangers, unwearable shoes, even Papa's prosthetic leg they were all there.
My roommate wanted it all gone. I wasn't sure what to lose and what to keep (the butcher paper, sure ... but what about those hangers? See, I've got packrat genes, too). After all, this was my grandparents' stuff, and I had some memories of some of these things.
But in the end, she prevailed. Most of what we found wound up in the dumpster.
We got to work cleaning, prepping, puttying, sanding, painting, ripping out carpet (and discovering a hardwood floor that demanded more work), varnishing. I have clothes that still stink of primer and Varithane. But in that week (and other weeks that followed, since I started work that following Monday), we got a lot done. We finished in mid-July and moved out of the one-bedroom into our own spaces. Then she moved out this September.