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Chauffeur to Ghosts

Island Life

The sun was just beginning to brush the tops of the mountains outside of Butte as I left there the other day. The temperature was in the low teens and there was a light dusting of snow all around, although the roads were thankfully bare and dry. It was the state of the snow the night before that sealed the deal on my pulling over for a warm rest stop inside an inn that was a part of a national network of such places. It was large and there was almost no one there, but it was a Saturday night in November in Butte and if I hadn’t been concerned about snow melt freezing as I sped through the night I probably would have had no reason to stop there either. I had been doing foggy mental calculations all day as the miles clicked away on the odometer of the rental van, counting out my progress westward. It seemed as though my arrival in Butte left me in a good position to make Seattle before the Monday noon deadline to get the vehicle back to its home port, albeit a new one on the other side of the country from whence it came. Having begun this tale right near the end of it, I would imagine that some out there are a bit confused, so maybe I’d better start again.

A little over a year ago in this space I wrote about a hallway of ghosts in my parents’ house, at least that is the name my nieces and nephews had given to it because of the old photos of various family members both living and dead that lined the walls there. At the time I had returned there to deal with what two of those ghosts, my parents, had tasked us with sorting out by their passing. What I soon found was that the bonding experience I had expected to have with my only sibling as we plowed through mountains of things representing years of my parents’ lives was simply not to be. Instead I was to discover the entrance to the black hole that my sister created where my parents’ estate had been which required the retaining of legal assistance and an ongoing period of discovery that should be reaching a conclusion within the next month before the mediation hearings that are now scheduled for mid January. I don’t know what cosmic sense of balance requires that someone with a “Leave it to Beaver” upbringing should wind up in court fighting a family battle with the eventual decision perhaps setting New Hampshire state probate law precedent, since as it is, my sister and the family lawyer have botched things with the estate so badly. That is one of the outcomes that my lawyer foresees, but we are not there yet.

As it turned out, somewhere about May or June of this year, my sister decided to shirk a few more of her duties as co-executor and co-trustee, and she stopped paying the taxes, mortgage and power bills on my parents’ house and property, and it was toward the end of July that I learned that it all was about to go into foreclosure. One of the terms I have since learned is forbearance, which seems is somewhat of a safety mechanism that allows things a curious immunity while waiting to be sold, and this is the state that the house and property currently resides in. What has also happened in the mean time is that my sister and the errant lawyer (who should have known better since he is a senior partner and the head of his firm’s probate and family planning division) have been replaced by a special fiduciary, which I guess is code for “this is a really big mess here.” And so it was that in the machination of things and the continued depletion of estate assets, the special fiduciary declared that everything needed to be removed from the house and the imperative of selling the place as quickly as possible be moved to the forefront.

During my month of working and cleaning there last year I had made small stashes of a few things and notes of other stuff around the house. While it wasn’t all that much, I was imagining all these things being packed and stacked away in some storage place making finding anything a nightmare, so I made a one way reservation to Boston and rented a mini van with seats that folded into the floor and headed to a rendezvous with the assistant to the special fiduciary and a four hour supermarket sweep of sorts of all the things I was “allowed” to have, as even though my sister has already pilfered the coffers to the bare shelves, she is still entitled to her half of the house objects pie.

As the clock ticked away, I filled an assortment of boxes that I had grabbed at a New Hampshire state liquor store on the way there and we made piles out in the driveway on a warm and sunny fall afternoon. Just before I wrapped up the grandfather clock I had asked for years ago I moved the minute hand to cover the hour hand at high noon and the silent sentinel came to life, chiming out its last twelve tones in the hallway it had stood in for thirty years. This was one of the four clocks that I had brought back to life during my stay there a year before, and this was the tail end of my last winding playing itself out. I did get the other three clocks as well, and as I packed one of them, it too came back to life with some chimes from inside the box, perhaps giving another meaning to the idea of a ghost in the machine. The fiduciary assistant reached her time limit and left, leaving me locked out of the house in the driveway with a half-loaded van and her skepticism as to whether I would get it all in. A short while later, having figured out the puzzle, I closed the doors of the van on all I had selected and headed away from that place.

As we all know, whenever one goes off the Island one has to have many tasks to accomplish before returning, and this trip was no different. That night I spent time with old friends from where I grew up in New York who were now also New Hampshire residents about an hour away. We spent a lot of time trading swimming memories as summer competition had been our early bond. The next morning I dashed back to New London and a meeting with my lawyer which was good, having primarily discussed all that had previously transpired in this case through a year of emails. Then I headed west, and five hours later arrived mid state in New York for an all too brief visit with my cousins whose house- as adults- I had never been to before. My purpose here was to hopefully lighten my load, as one of the daughters in law was also working on the Ray family history and many of the things I had grabbed had been with her in mind. I left only one box, and a promise to spend much time at the scanner making digital records of our joint past to be posted on a shared database for all to see.

The next part of the journey had been a few years in the works. As a part of my ongoing video project about Jac Tabor’s murals in the Vashon Theatre, I had been trading emails with his nephew in Ohio, and I figured that if I was passing by I might as well take advantage of that opportunity and stop. As it was, he lives only a few short miles off I-80, so I took the exit and popped in- with adequate warning of course. A sitting with his dad did not go so well, as the failings of Alzheimer’s took its toll on his recollections of his old friend Jac. But I did get the nephew’s remembrances recorded, along with a few more key pieces of the puzzle- a drawing of Tabor’s boat the “Mu” and a picture of Jac and his dad at the Disney studios in the 1960’s. Like this trip, someday I will finish this project.

The rest was just driving. I left outside of Toledo early Friday afternoon and arrived in time for Wendy’s dad’s eightieth birthday party in Issaquah at 2:30 on Sunday afternoon two days later. In between I hit a rabbit sometime after midnight in Minnesota with regrets that came and went. And somewhere in Montana I glanced sideways at an abandoned house in a field, and for the first time, after having seen countless scenes like this in many other places, it appeared to me not as a collapsing building, but rather a deflating packet of memories, having once held the thoughts, dreams, awakenings and inventions of a pocket of people now past. I went by too fast to tell if it was still leaking, or if it had all been lost into air and space a long ago