We returned to “Bubbie’s house” to finish pulling the last of the nails, toss the rest of the trash, and sweep up the remaining bits of dry wall, insulation, broken glass, rusty nails and ceiling tiles.
We put off throwing the remainder of dishes, glassware, vases, silverware, books, etc. into the debris pile until the afternoon, just before we were ready to leave. It was heartbreaking to throw these things away. The son of the homeowners had already sifted through these items, and we had been given instructions to dispose of what he had left behind. No more than fifteen minutes after we reluctantly added these once beautiful things to the huge pile of disgusting, moldy junk, a car pulled up and idled in front of the house. There were two African American women inside. They rolled down the window and stared at the sad scene – the house taken down to its studs, the towering pile of garbage in the front yard.
Some voice somewhere told me to go over and introduce myself to the two women. I learned that they were mother and daughter, and that the mother had been the family’s housekeeper for fifteen years. These were “her people” she said. She told me she just needed to come by and see the place one last time.
Yes, of course! She would love to have the dishes that had not been broken when we tossed them onto the trash heap. Well certainly, she would love to gather a few mementos. We walked through the house together, and she showed me which corner of the living room the piano had been in and talked about how the grandchildren used to love playing it. She explained to me which side of the kitchen the dairy dishes were kept and where the Passover dishes were stored. She showed me where a set of handsome portraits of the six sons had hung on the wall. She recalled that she used to make the family’s favorite, fried chicken, on special occasions. Yes, everyone called the woman who lived here “Bubbie” (how did you know, she wondered). She said that this is so much for her to bear but that she has had to endure a lot of pain and sadness and loss over the past year and a half.
She and her daughter loaded the dishes, a moldy quilt (she told me it had sentimental value) a couple of pretty crystal vases, a warped, faded and badly scratched photograph of the six grown sons and a chipped mug that said Bubbie on it into the back seat of the car. They lingered for a while before they pulled away.
Our team, which we named for our foreman, then piled into the van and took a drive through the lower 9th Ward. It was an emotional ending to an emotional day.