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Hoarding the War - Creative Nonfiction Essay

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Hoarding the War - Creative Nonfiction Essay

Hoarding the War

Today my grandma is 83 years old. She lives with my mom, dad and me and aside from my mom waiting on her hand and foot I do some of the laboring work as well. I’m not always cynical about taking care of my grandma; I’ve been doing it since I was 12. I would wash her back every time she would take a bath. I don’t know if this is some sort of Japanese tradition, but she’s been hollering my name to wash her back for years. Nowadays, I take care of her like someone would in a nursing home. I draw a bath for her letting her soak in it for 20 minutes, then I come in to wash her back and her hair, then I drain the tub and put my arms under her armpits to lift her up onto the shower stool, so that I can start another process of washing her. And on a good day she won’t accidentally shit in the bathtub during this routine. I’ve had a lot of time to build a level of trust with her that she has with no one else. She put all her funds under my name for when she leaves this earth.

        Sachiko Yamada came to America at the age of 20 and became a U.S. citizen by the age of 21. She had met my grandpa in Japan when he was stationed there during the Vietnam War. It didn’t take long before they went against everyone’s wishes and got married. Actually it took three dates to the movie Casablanca before they got married and had my mom. My grandpa was like any other Master Sergeant in the Air force, in that he was always on the go for months to years at a time, while my grandma would be taking care of my mom in the many different states they moved to. As years moved forward she had three more children. I often wonder what it was like to have her as a mom after I realize what it is like to have her as a grandmother.

        When my grandpa died from lung cancer when I was seven years old my grandma couldn’t stand to live in their house anymore. So she moved into the house next door, my parent’s house with my mom, dad, brother and me. This is when I really got to know my grandma, inside and out. She was the 4’11” Japanese grandma who wore color coordinated outfits when she went out and as a side effect of going clearance shopping, she wore the same sweaters in varying colors when she stayed in. She slept on our couch for years while I shared a room with my brother in our two-bedroom home. My parents finally decided to convert the attic into a bedroom for my 15- year-old brother, while I stayed in the room and had a different person to share it with. I thought that sharing a room with someone of the same gender would be easier, but it wasn’t. She slept the day bed, while I got the trundle. To speak on her behalf she did pay for the bed in order to get rid of the old bunk bed that used to occupy the room, so she deserved to have the more comfortable one. She would stay up for hours with the TV on and I would be trying to fall asleep to be able to wake up for sixth grade classes the next day. It would often play out like so: she would fall asleep with the TV on, and then I would go to the end of my bed and push the button to turn it off, and when I did she would wake up and turn it back on. I quickly grew to not enjoy having the opportunity to watch TV at late hours of the night. I would tell my mom about these exhausting encounters and she would relay the message to my grandma. Situations in the house would always play out to show who holds the most power in the household. If my grandma wasn’t happy about something she would vent to my dad and then he would tell my mom and then eventually as I grew older my mom would vent to me. My grandma has always been the boss of the household and our family, because she has the most money and would help my parents with a lot of their financial difficulties. When we all found out how my grandma has a hoarding disorder we didn’t let it get to us, because she was in charge.

        Unlike the television program called Hoarders my grandma didn’t let her collections occupy too much of the living space in our home. She would hide the items she collected instead. She hid them so well she couldn’t even find them and when my brother and I did they would be rotten or in the case of a tangerine it would be so dry that if I threw it at my brother, it would have left a welt. When my brother and I were younger it would become a game to find the food my grandma would hide. We started noticing that food went missing after trips to the grocery store. In one case a Doritos bag went missing just a few days after we had opened it. So in the pursuit of finding chips, because kids love chips, we looked everywhere. We finally found them stuffed in the china cabinet drawer that was already stuffed full of papers, that my mom couldn’t get rid of. My grandma’s hoarding became a pattern that was easy to predict. If it were fruit it would be tucked away in drawers, like end table drawers, china cabinet drawers, and her bedroom drawers. If it were a long lasting item like soda or a can of soup she would put them in less discreet areas like under her bed or in the closet. She didn’t have a problem with sharing the candy she hoarded, which seemed like a different character trait for a hoarder. She has definitely personalized the definition of being a hoarder. When candy goes on clearance she buys excessive amounts and tucks it away for when little kids come over. As a shout out to her nieces, nephews, and children of my parents’ friends, sorry but you all got handfuls of candy that was months to years old. I learned the hard way and never took candy from her again after she tried to give me a piece of hard candy that had already been sucked on and as a result had crumbs of pine needles and dust stuck on it. That incident led me to believe she had dropped it and rewrapped it to give to someone like me. Looking back at moments like these and coming to terms with my own habits of keeping things in excess or buying things in bulk, I’ve come to terms with growing up in a situation that isn’t as normal as I thought. When you’re a child you don’t question the way you are raised or the people that surround you in a home. To a child everything is normal until society shows them differently. I started noticing that what my grandma does isn’t normal when my brother, who is five years older than me, had someone else point it out to him.

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