The First Trip: April 23 – 30, 2022
Saturday, April 23, 2022
I spent quite some time collecting and packing gear for the trip that I thought we’d need, from tools to clothes for all weather, as we didn’t know what sort of temperatures and conditions we might experience and had to be ready for anything. It was just a week’s trip, but with everything from dog food to clothes for two for the full week (work clothes and “evening” clothes, as it were), it took all the space available in the truck while still leaving room for dogs and people.
After an early night, we departed Maine at 0135; we’d been shooting for an 0200 departure, so early was good. The goal with this departure time was to get through the megalopolis of CT/NY/NJ early enough to avoid daytime traffic woes. I can’t drive deep into the night, but have no trouble with really early departures. We stopped for a bathroom break at the Charlton rest area just before 84, then again at a rest area in Bedford, NY off 684 mainly for the dogs, then at the James Gandolfini rest stop in Montvale, NJ for fuel (about the halfway point). We ran into some traffic (construction-lane drop-related in Waterbury, CT, always a pinch point), then, later, right after crossing the Delaware river on the Memorial Bridge (which we call the Delmember for its common abbreviation seen on the traffic signs: Del Mem Br). This section of Delaware, where about 24 highways seem to converge and cross as the conduit collects from New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and just about anywhere else, was and would continue to be the worse single section of the trip–but thankfully over with quickly.
DE-1, the divided highway that more or less parallels (and replaces, for through-travelers) US-13 as far south as Dover, was busy, hectic, and toll-heavy, then ended rather abruptly, dumping us into the Delaware sprawl, which didn’t end till Maryland. Slow, tedious going, as it was now mid-morning on a Saturday. We stopped at a gala Royal Farms (these are everywhere down there) for another dog and human break, the continued to The Lodge, stopping just once more in Onley for a quick lunch at McDonald’s. We arrived at 1300 on a beautiful spring day. The property looked about as expected, and had been mostly abandoned since December.
The key, left by Dee’s friend and erstwhile (and helpfully insistent) overseer, was right where she said she’d leave it, and we got in the house to find things in pretty good order overall–at least the living room, kitchen, bathroom, and the small front bedroom that had always been Dee’s little sanctuary and, we think, pretty much where he lived for many years when the rest of the house became so chockablock and filthy.
We explored the house and grounds for most of the afternoon, acquainting ourselves with the property, the outbuildings, the “piles” (i.e. the carefully-collected stacks of lumber, firewood, and masonry stored all over the property), and preparing for the work ahead. I’d ordered a 30-yard dumpster to arrive Monday morning, but now it was only Saturday, and since the main focus of this trip was to clean out the house, there wasn’t that much we could do just yet.
I found several plastic bins full of paperwork of undefined importance stored out on the back patio, and the wind had blown the covers off, so the contents ended up soaked. Fortunately, most of it seemed to be junk mail (Dee got more junk mail than anyone I’ve ever known, most of it, unfortunately, from political and religious organizations counter to our own views), but I did find several of Dee’s cherished diaries, ruined. Dee wrote small entries daily for essentially his entire adult life, largely weather observations, but we’d been anxious to find and save these documents, so it was disappointing to find so many ruined from the onset.
Around 1600 or so, we decided to depart and head to our motel, which we’d booked in a nearby town on the opposite side of the shore (the Atlantic side). We checked in to room 21, a decent room overall and a nice place, but unfortunately we’d arrived at the beginning of the town’s annual Flounder tournament, and the tiny village was overrun with fishermen and their boats on trailers, all coming to town for a first-night bash. The rest of the motel seemed to be populated by grizzled, smoking fishermen who always seemed to be outside, smoking, at all hours, and were a bane for the entire week. We didn’t know the area, and were tired and ready for an early night, so we went back out to Onley and had dinner at Wendy’s.
Sunday, April 24, 2022
There was nothing to do at the hotel except avoid the smoking fishermen, so we left early, got gas, and stopped at the store for some basic groceries for lunch items and so forth. Once we got to The Lodge, I recorded some videos showing the “as begun” status of things, then got to work on the master bedroom, which we started out calling Cathy’s room (because it was, back in the day). This room, as seen in the photos and videos above, was full of stuff: boxes and bins of old clothes and shoes, bank statements, and general hoarded bric-a-brac. Though the dumpster wasn’t coming till Monday, we had to get started. The weather was very nice–warm, sunny, and near 80.
Over the course of the day, wearing a mask (against dust) and gloves all day, I brought all the stuff from the master out to the driveway near where we planned for the dumpster, a walk of about 75 feet, and piled it on the ground there. As I went, I inspected the boxes for anything worth salvage, but mostly it was ancient bank and investment records, phone company statements, that sort of thing–no need for any of this any longer. Also, there were heart-wrenching boxed full of Cathy’s clothes (mostly), which Dee could never bring himself to part with. All of this stuff had originally been carefully stored, but overtime, between mothballs (which basically ruined all the clothes) and being in a hoard for all these years, most of the clothing (some of which still had store tags) was unable to be saved. We did keep a small pile of clothes we felt we could (and did) donate. There were more than 100 containers of powdered Tang and Gatorade (orange flavor) in this room, and more elsewhere in the house.
There was a cot on one side of the room, and a bed on the other, and both were sort of built-in to the mess, covered with rough wooden frameworks to provide additional “shelving” for more stuff atop. But by about 1600, I had everything out of the room, including two full-size rugs (one on top of the other), and broom clean. Everything was staged by the driveway for loading into the dumpster when it arrived.
Meanwhile, Heidi had been hard at work in Dee’s little room (which we now call the office). She started by removing all the photos and papers and things hung all over the walls, which I first fully documented.
This left the small room mostly empty by the end of the day, other than the closet (full) and an old dresser.
This seemed like a good accomplishment for the day and, tired, we returned to our motel to clean up and then treated ourselves to dinner at The Island House restaurant, right on the wharf across from the motel. Service was really slow, the special sweet potato biscuits accompanying the meal were about an inch square, and the food was OK but not as good as it should have been given the prices. Nice view, however. Someday we’ll give it another try.
Monday, April 25, 2022
We left the hotel early and stopped at Hardees on the way for a breakfast biscuit (Hardees makes really good breakfast biscuits). I picked away at a few things after eating, then, at 0740, I received a call from the dumpster driver with an ETA of 20 minutes, so I strolled out the driveway to wait for him, taking a video along the way to highlight the overgrowth and myriad piles of stuff lining the property that we’d eventually need to deal with.
The dumpster arrived, and the driver easily backed it down our long, narrow driveway, unloading it right where I wanted by about 0830.
I got right to work loading in the pile I’d created yesterday, packing the dumpster tightly to maximize volume, and creating barriers as I went using heavy bins of clothing, pieces of furnitre, and so forth.
I finished this work by 10, when one of the brokers I’d contacted about looking at the property to give us a CMA arrived: Heather Brady from Blue Heron. She’d been the low-level person assigned by the brokerage, apparently. Now, I know the house and property was not in good condition at this point, but she seemed really uninterested and unprepared, with only a glossy brochure to offer and no real advice or valuation. Clearly she wasn’t interested in the potential listing. At this point, we were still moving forward on the idea that we might sell the property.
Once she left (gratefully, on her part), I got to work on the small back room, the worst room in the house. It’s best to see its original condition in the first interior video, near the top of this page. Small, dark, and cramped on a good day, this room was filled to the hilt with junk. I worked on it steadily for the rest of the day, making inroads but far from getting through everything. I did clear out about half the room, enough to get to one of the windows to open it for ventilation. The second side of the room would just have to wait till next time.
Heidi worked through the day to continue on Dee’s room, aka the office, where the closet was still full of clothes, reel-to-reel tapes and more, and she also emptied the small closet in the master bedroom, which was stuffed full of Cathy’s clothes–a big job. She also cleaned out the kitchen and refrigerator to remove the food that had been there since Dee died.
After another full, productive day, we returned to the hotel as usual to clean up, then headed out to the Machipongo Clam Hut–good fried seafood.
Tuesday, April 26, 2022
We had a light morning, as I’d made an appointment with the estate lawyer, John Custis, at 11. We escaped the hotel and the smoking, immobile, taciturn fishermen early, and at The Lodge I moved those sodden plastic tubs of paperwork to the dumpster and some other small chores I could handle without getting dirty before my meeting.
Around 0930, we left and drove by another property we’d been fortunate to inherit, some 70 acres of mostly farmland, with some woods. It was as expected–nothing of great note to us, but nice to see firsthand.
We headed for Onley for the meeting. It was too hot to leave the dogs unattended in the truck (and we weren’t at the point where we felt good leaving them at the Lodge), so Heidi stayed in the truck while I attended the meeting. The receptionist brought me to a fancy conference room to wait for John.
The meeting went well, and afterwards we had lunch before heading back to the Lodge and work. I continued work in the back room, making progress down to the benchtop on the right side of the room (some boards over some large sawhorses), which on hand didn’t seem like much progress, yet had taken all afternoon. Heidi continued work in the office and elsewhere, where there seemed to be more stuff behind everything taken out. There’s a lot more detail about our progress in the video below.
Dinner was a pizza from Little Italy in Nassawadox–good pizza.
Wednesday, April 27, 2022
The last stuff in the back room was more bags of plastic bags, some rough shelving from the walls, and various intricate arrangements made to hold coat hangers and clothespins. There was old paint, more containers of powdered Tang, and more. This mainly filled the dumpster for all intents and purposes, and we pretty much maxxed it out with some final stuff from Dee’s bedroom (office) and elsewhere, throwing these things in over the top once I had to close the back door. I called Davis Disposal, and they picked up the dumpster around 1230. Since the worst of the house was now emptied out, we didn’t see a need for another dumpster now, but there’d be more in our future when we returned to deal with the outdoors.
At 1200 Beverly McCord from Coldwell Banker, the other agency I’d contacted, arrived well-prepared with CMA info, though she was dressed a bit fancily. We thought her figure was unrealistically high (to be fair, she’d not seen the property before), but she was helpful and enthusiastic, and ultimately we did end up using her to sell the two undeveloped properties we also inherited, and which we had no interest in.
Meanwhile, I continued to explore the property, including the several storage sheds on site, and the two cars Dee left behind. The 1994 Cavalier, which he’d had since new, was his work car, and also the place where his dog, Rover, had spent much of his time when he was around (I did find–with some alarm–a box of ashes in the back seat, with Dee’s handwriting on the box reading “Always With Me”; this turned out to be Rover) and Dee always left the windows at least partly open. So this car was full of stuff, and compacted garbage and other things in the back seat, footwells, and trunk. It took a while to clean out this car, but all that being said, it ran extremely well: Dee kept his cars forever, and didn’t do anything cosmetically, but he always maintained them mechanically. The Cavalier had been the “nice” car when Dee got married; his daily driver was a 1978 Chevette that he drove until his mechanic told him he could no longer get parts, which was about 2010 or thereabouts), after which Dee bought his 2012 Prius, which was fortunately in better interior condition than the Cavalier.
There were three storage sheds on the property: A broken-down cheap metal shed, which was full of kindling, broken plastic buckets, and assorted bric-a-brac’; a light blue gambrel shed, also full of assorted junk (most notably the rows and rows of styrofoam meat packing trays–clean–that he’d stored in the rafters, almost like insulation); and a third, gray shed that was full of lumber, firewood and kindling, and newspapers–and probably more, but the shed did not encourage one to actually enter it.
Thursday, April 28, 2022
A bit of a loose-endy day, since the major goals of our first visit were complete. I cleaned out the cars, and called AAA to jumpstart the Prius, which wouldn’t run since its starting battery was dead. Because it was a hybrid (I had no experience with these), I found I had to put a brick on the gas pedal to keep the gasoline engine running so the battery could charge after it had been jumped. I moved both cars from their original locations to a better location for storage for now. We’d hoped maybe to be able to quickly sell these cars, but we didn’t find the title paperwork for either; we thought this might be in the safe deposit box for which we’d found a key earlier, and which I’d turned over to the estate lawyer to try and gain access. So for the time being, the cars would remain here, but they were in the way, so I moved them off the driveway, which somehow felt like progress anyway.
With time on hand, I decided, with trepidation, to look in the attic, which had been inaccessible till I’d cleaned out the back room. Of course it was full, though it seemed at least relatively organized. But this was a problem for another time–we weren’t going to address this now in any case.
We tried a Mexican restaurant, El Maguey, we’d been driving by all week, and which wasn’t much to look at from outside, but online reviews were good, and we were glad we went: this turned into our favorite restaurant in the area, one we would enjoy over the next visits.
Friday, April 29, 2022
Our last full day for this trip, so we had a relaxing morning at the house after our usual early arrival. Later, we spent some time in town haranguing with the funeral home in order to take possession of Dee’s ashes, which was not a simple process, as it happened. Eventually we succeeded, saved a bit for mom in a silly can we found at a local antique store, and scattered the remainder around the Lodge and Dee’s favorite place, the Grainger Farm property, which had been in Cathy’s family and which he’d bequeathed to a local land conservancy. We also scattered Rover along with Dee at both places; we felt this was the right thing to do.
In the afternoon, back at the house, we tidied things up and prepared for departing. We’d be leaving very early in the morning from the hotel, so I packed the truck with all the things we were bringing back to Maine (at this point we were still more or less expecting to sell The Lodge, though this was to change), shut off the power, and, with things greatly improved from our arrival, headed back to the motel for an early night. When we arrived there, after grabbing dinner on the way, we found it was party time for the fishermen at the motel, with all sorts of extra cars and wives/girlfriends/whatever on hand. This was annoying because the spot in front of our room was taken, rudely, and I had to park right in the thick of things in the only available space, then load the rest of our luggage into the truck in the midst.
Saturday, April 30, 2022
Up at 0045, departed at 0120. We thought of being obnoxious and making lots of noise to get back at the partiers from last evening, but of course we didn’t. The ride home was fine and not notable, but without the anticipation of the trip down, it was far less enjoyable. But we were already looking forward to our next visit, which wouldn’t be till fall, but clearly our thoughts were beginning to come together about The Lodge.