The night of Sunday, September 19, 2016, was a hard one for me. I couldn’t sleep. The following morning, I was due at my grandmother’s apartment to commence the clean-out. The magnitude of the move was front and center on my mind.
About 4:00 AM, I finally drifted off. Unfortunately, I needed to be up at 5:00 AM. I slept through my alarm. It was maybe 8:00 AM before my feet hit the floor. I wasn’t thrilled, but I dressed and hit the road.
The traffic was blasphemous. A 1.5 hour commute took twice as long. I spent most of the drive with my head resting on the steering wheel.
When I finally got to the Bronx, I had to stop at the various residences of my relatives to pick them up. I went from a long haul to a bus route.
At about 12:00 PM, we finally arrived at my grandmother’s apartment.
She had been a resident for 41 years. Maybe that’s why the building’s management company and its employees treated the place like a shrine. Save for a picnic table a dear cousin had left at her last visit, nothing was amiss. I was at once surprised and touched. An uninhabited apartment in New York City is typically a free-for-all for anyone with access.
There were five of us all together. We did a visual sweep of the place. What faced us was three bedrooms, two bathrooms, a cavernous living room, a foyer, an eat-in kitchen and a powder room full of all kinds of furniture, documents, trinkets, doodads, thingamabobs and God knows what else. I was overwhelmed. What to do first? We needed a plan.
If I was confused, my cousin Renee was not. She was like a Marine: First to fight, last to leave. I keyed on her. Once she had made some inroads on the chaos, a rudimentary plan took shape in my mind.
Job 1: Documents. My grandmother had mail dating back to 1957. 1957! The oldest letter was one from my grandmother’s second husband to her. I couldn’t believe it. I saved this for my uncle as it was from his father to his mother. Beyond that, we had piles of billing statements, legal documents, birth certificates, social security cards and etcetera for at least ten people. How my grandmother crammed all that stuff into 1,300 square feet without looking like a hoarder is a minor miracle. We had to dispose of the documents containing sensitive information.
Among grandma’s possessions was a medium duty paper shredder. I ran a bunch of stuff through it, but it soon became clear that this shredder wouldn’t be enough. I had to stop what I was doing to look up commercial shredding outfits.
This paper issue might have been the first challenge we faced, but it certainly wasn’t the last. We were initially allotted five days, but we knew by Wednesday that we couldn’t clear the place out by Friday. No one panicked. I simply suggested to my mom that she call the management people and ask for an extension of a few days. Forty-one years should earn us a pass. That gamble paid off. We got an extra five days.