I believe we left off with some dramatic music, yes, Gentle Reader?
Let it be my mother’s cell phone ringtone.
She answered the phone in the hallway of the union building, just outside the office that our hearing had been in, crushed and crying. Whatever happened on the phone caused more tears, some excited shouting, and a few minutes of stunned silence. I watched her, agog, not knowing what the hell had just happened.
It came to pass that her Uncle Frank had passed away a few months prior, and had left her his entire estate. Well, to be fair, the estate belonged to Great-Aunt Dorothy, the Elizabeth Taylor of our family.
Frank had been her fifth husband, I believe. Frank was an eccentric, a vibrant, passionate, unmedicated genius and madman. As we left the union hall, Ma turned to me, and asked me if I’d like to go see the house in West Seattle that she’d just inherited. Breathless, I agreed.
Despite not having been to the place in at least twenty years, Maman found it easily.One story, plus the basement; one of the old Sear’s Craftsmen homes. It was pretty run down, and the garden had clearly been neglected for a number of years. As we walked up the rotting steps to the door, I went ahead of Ma, and stopped her from going inside; Frank had been a bit of a hoarder and no kind of housekeeper. Evidently, he had been unwell for a while before he passed away, and it had been a month after before anyone found his body. The smell of rotting food and summer corpse was strong. Ma was overcome with both guilt and pity, and needed a few moments. I opened the windows that faced the fenced garden, so that the house could air out before we returned.
That summer, we explored the house. Frank’s office, once a bedroom, had meticulous records of grocery receipts in filing cabinets, dating back to the mid-1940’s, while his stocks and deeds were in heaps on the floor.
We discovered a locked closet, in one room. When we found the key, it turned out to lead to a set of stairs, and a hidden second story – vast, empty rooms, containing strange things. One room was full of antique farm windows. Another held nothing but a small upright piano. The basement, though, was where the real treasures were – evidence of Frank’s strange obsessions. One room was raised six inches, decorated with thirty or so of the old two-man logging handsaws, and contained his architect and draftsman’s tools.
Aunt Dorothy and Uncle Frank had traveled the world together, and the main living areas of the house were cluttered with trinkets collected on their travels. Their furniture, though faded, had been the height of style in the ’60’s. Dorothy, who had been called Gaudy Dottie by her friends and rivals, had a massive collection of costume jewelry that Ma and I fought over.
Eventually, Ma sold the house, but for that summer? We were those children exploring the mysterious old house, discovering treasures and adventure.