My Very Soggy Vacation

Well, things went a bit awry this year on the White Family Vacation. First of all, it rained for four straight days while we were on South Padre Island. We spent a lot of time in the condo together. My family has done its fair share of bickering in the past, so it was a pleasant surprise that we had a great time together for that many successive days!

We managed to get out despite the rain – Grandma and I got pedicures, Lindsey and I got toe rings and hung out at coffee shop/Internet cafe for a while, and we went out to dinner most nights. Jeff and his wife Gina cooked dinner for us one night – fried chicken and asparagus. We went to Garcia’s one night, which is the first U.S. location of a restaurant and store in Mexico that my parents and grandparents have been going to for 50 years. It started as a jewelry stand in a Mexican border town and grew into a real business, and my grandparents knew Mr. Garcia from the very beginning. Kind of neat.

The sun finally came out the last day, and those of us who were not yet burned (read, me) got some sun. It actually came back with a vengeance, like it had something to prove, and I had to cover my back and legs with my beach towel (picture that, please) for most of the afternoon to keep from being fried. There was a hurricane somewhere in the distance, so it was causing giant waves and a LOT of seaweed to wash up. The seaweed was everywhere. We could really only be in the water in the morning, because as soon as the tide came in, it brought seaweed with it – from the balcony, you could actually see football-field-long stretches of seaweed making its way to the shore in a diagonal line. The current was pretty powerful, and after an hour or so in the water, my sunglasses were swept right off my head, and I realized at some point that one of my rings was gone.

While it was raining at the beach, it was also raining in Harlingen, and my grandmother’s house flooded with about three inches of water sometime while we had her at the beach, most likely Monday. Thursday, when we got to her house, it had been mildewing for days, and the smell was overwhelming. She, of course, couldn’t smell it very well, so she didn’t exactly jump on getting the insurance process started, and it wasn’t until the next afternoon that a guy came to suck some water out of the carpet in a couple of rooms. Luckily, getting a little water out made the smell a little less oppressive, but you still had to wear shoes everywhere you went, and we were all feeling quite moist. We tried to keep the doors open to help vent a little, but the normal high-90s weather had returned, and the heat mixed with the mosquitoes and mildew was NOT PLEASANT. Two days later, the insurance adjuster finally showed up and did his thing, and then we got the water-sucker guy to come back and pull up the carpet.

While the Carpet Saga was going on, I was trying my best to clean out my grandmother’s house. We have been trying to convince her to sell her house and move to Dallas for some time now, and I think she’s finally wrapped her head around that possibility. We had a meeting with a lawyer to go over getting the house deed changed to her name, instead of my grandfather’s (who has been dead for over 10 years). He got that process started, so as soon as that happens and we can get the house ready, it can be sold.

But in order to do THAT, we have to clear out 50 years of CRAP. I cannot comprehend the amount of junk this woman has amassed: several hundred plastic utensils, an array of cookie jars, exercise equipment, scary chemical cleaners from at least three decades ago, more empty coffee cans than any sane person could ever use, and rat poop. Oh, the rat poop. It was everywhere. She has fixed the rat problem, but they left little presents in every drawer, on every shelf, even inside the fold-up couch. I did my best to sanitize every place I worked on, but I know there’s more waiting for an innocent, unsuspecting maid. The weirdest find was an empty food can, label removed, covered with pasted-on clippings of women’s eyes. Just their eyes. I showed her, and she had no clue where it came from. Wall-E would have a ball in this house.

The beach part of the vacation was restful, but the last four days have been exhausting and uncomfortable. Which is fine. If it means I left my grandmother in a better environment, I don’t mind at all, and I wish I could have done more. The frustrating part was that she doesn’t seem to realize that her house is falling apart around her, and what she does realize, she doesn’t mind. She is definitely more scattered and forgetful than she used to be, and that’s heartbreaking. She has always been a bit ADD, flitting from one thing to another, starting projects and never finishing them. But now she will tell you a story she just told you ten minutes ago, or offer you the same pair of unwanted slippers four times, which is an entirely different kind of scattered, and it’s alarming to me. It’s of course hard to see this strong-willed woman deteriorating, but the sucky part is that she’s alone down there experiencing this mental challenge. I’m so afraid she’ll take too much medication, or misjudge how old the chicken is, or leave the gas stove on and blow up her house. Her best friend just died three weeks ago after an illness, and she’s been sad, although I think seeing her friend give up her will to live has made her more determined to take care of herself. She’s not ready to give up.

She’s also been getting taken advantage of by magazine companies (she was getting ESPN, Latina and Radar, to name a few, as part of a magazine club thing), book clubs, and things like that. She didn’t understand why they were all coming to her, and she keeps meaning to call them and figure out who sent her a subscription, but she doesn’t understand or remember that she mot likely gave someone her credit card number and authorized it herself, not understanding what she was doing (and, I’m sure, being led on by a horrible human being phone person who knew exactly what they were doing). My sister-in-law Gina got on the phone with both companies and yelled at them for taking advantage of old people, and she got some of Grandma’s money back. She gets more junk mail than I’ve ever seen, and many of them were thanking her for her contribution, so I know she donates money to a lot of charities. Being an avid charity-donor myself, I understand her desire to help people, but she had BAGS AND BAGS of junk mail sitting around, all asking for money, and I can’t have that. I’m going to try to get her off these junk lists, so hopefully there won’t be the temptation for her to give Publisher’s Clearing House the time of day. I found a small shredder in a closet somewhere (she didn’t know it was there), and I taught her to use it, so hopefully what I can’t get to will be shredded. And hopefully, she won’t shred her fingers.

Anyway, it wasn’t exactly Club Med, but overall it was a nice vacation. I really enjoyed being with my family. I haven’t really spent much time with my sister-in-law the last few years, and I don’t really know her very well, to be honest, despite the fact that she has been with my brother for ten years. She really opened up on this trip. She’s usually very quiet and reserved, but she came alive with us this week, and I really enjoyed her company. She felt – and acted – like my sister for the first time. So many of my friends have such unhappy or fragmented family lives, and I am so lucky to have the familial stability and framework that I do, and I’m acutely aware of that. We are a wildly-imperfect group, but I can’t describe how grateful I am to be a part of it.


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