Barbara Allen’s poignant memoir about growing up in the home of a belligerent duplicitous hoarder is told from the perspective of a fourteen year old living the experience. She has the constant support of her twelve year old sister as the only other household member who seems to understand something is incredibly wrong here. It is comprised of thirty-four vignettes and an epilogue, most of which are singularly bitter-sweet, with a nimbus of humor that only the dual perspective of innocent narrator and adult reader can imbue.
Most of the episodes involve the seemingly limitless extent of her father’s self absorption at the expense of his family and its oh so many unpleasant expressions; her mother’s escape into a haze of tobacco smoke, soap operas and board games; and the degradation to which they both subject themselves and their six children, six dogs, and who knows how many cats. Toward the end, the tales evolve into a series of interconnected incidents during which the children’s hopes are first raised by the involvement of State Department of Children and Family Services and then dashed by the unforgivable incompetence of the useless case worker.
The images of the penny pinching father regularly buying damaged eggs at a farm, the extent of the squalor of their home including the one-bath-per-week rule, of the humiliation the two girls experience going to school filthy wearing hand me down clothing, of the Sunday “excursions” in which the father attempts to get all eight of them invited to dinner by arriving unannounced on the doorstep of church acquaintances, and all the rest of it are apt to remain with the reader for some time to come. Amid the horror stories are the real people who in some way reach out to the children. These include the maternal grandmother who takes them two at a time for a weekend glimpse of love and normalcy, the best friend willing to drink a cup of coffee with an oil slick without flinching, and the new neighbors who call the DCF.
The title of the book comes from the various scenarios the girls seriously postulate might have brought them to this wretched condition, including wrong babies brought home from the hospital, adoption, and nice children stolen from car. While the hoarder phenomena has gotten plenty of reality TV time lately, this written insight is far more compelling than simple images of rooms filled with junk, and goes well beyond the insipid politically correct notion of viewing hoarders simply as people with an affliction to the largely unsympathetic portrait of a controlling man whose colossal selfishness seemingly knows no bounds. His habits are at least second generation, to be sure, yet even this revelation does little to soften one’s image of the man.
The book is available in paperback and on Kindle.
- ISBN-13: 9781475192636
- Publisher: CreateSpace
- Publication date: 5/18/2012
- Pages: 94
- List price: $12.95
See also Barbara’s blog of the same name.