Last month, I wrote about real people, desperately short of the readies, who discover a miraculous windfall. When I went to graduate school in 1979, I didn't have any money. The stash I'd accumulated in Blijdorp Zoo, Rotterdam, sweeping the floor and washing off crocodile shit, was all ear-marked for fees. But I was taken into the bosom of my mentor's family. The family included his in-laws: a quiet and amiable printer originally from Tennessee and his eccentrically loud and vibrant second generation Polish wife. Sally was, in the English phrase, daft as a brush; but kind and good fun. She had experienced shocking privation growing up in the land of opportunity and when the family business started to thrive she became a little flaithulaich with money, while simultaneously carrying out numerous cunning plans to make a little more to spend.
The US banking system was and is much less monolithic than in these islands, where there are 2.5 functional banks in Ireland and about double that in the UK. There might be that many banks in a medium sized city like Springfield. In the 80s, at least, there was strong competition for customers and all sorts of gifts would be showered on you if you opened an account with a few hundred dollars. When I deposited my Dutch guilders in the local bank, for example, they presented me with a 25cm china quiche dish. Sally had a rolling stash of money that she'd deposit in one branch, collect a stuffed teddy-bear or a tea-service and then withdraw it all to invest in another company and acquire another attractive knick-knack. When she went shopping, she had a habit of throwing the change into the carrier bag along with the purchase . . . and maybe then leaving the purchase in its bag in the den until it was forgotten. She did wonders for the local economy but her home was full of stuff. When I first went to visit, she was in the throes of a turtle-collecting jag. Anything she saw that looked like a turtle or tortoise, she had to obtain. There were turtle cushion-covers, turtle tea-cups, turtle match-boxes, a turtle-shaped rug; a ceramic turtle about 60cm across stood in the living room.
Poor long-suffering Sam passed away and Sally became more eccentric and less reliable and eventually she couldn't be looked after in her own home. When it was clear that Sally was marking time in the residential care centre and wasn't ever going to return to live in her home, the family rolled up their sleeves to tackle the house contents. They needed to clear the house before it could be put on the market.
It was a monumental task. The family ordered an industrial-sized dumpster and started filling it with 50 years of accumulated memories . . . and stuff that nobody could remember seeing before and not wanting to see ever again. One weekend, one of her daughters and two grown up grandchildren put on old clothes and rubber gloves to have another two day clearing session.They agreed to have a blitz on the old lady's basement. The grandson was having a hard-time making ends meet and would really have preferred to be driving an extra shift as a limo driver, but he recognised that all family members had to row in for dumpster duty. He carefully emptied any ripe shopping bags and these often yielded clinking fruit and occasionally folding greenery, so it wasn't a total bust on the exchequer. On the second day, after lunch of coffee and sandwiches from the deli, the grandson was working on the far side of the cellar when he announced "I've found the cat". The creature had gone missing around the time his owner had gone into the care centre. A forensic analysis revealed that the cat had gone down to the cellar for a quite nap and been crushed by a teetering pile of boxed magazines. It was now as dry and flat as piece of bacalhau but nobody was planning to eat it.