My wife and I sat in the kitchen of her childhood. The house around us could have fit into our garage back home. Dust blanketed everything above my mother-in-law’s reach to clean, which was a lot. At eighty four and under five feet tall, it was a wonder she kept the house tidy at all. Stacks of magazines reached from floor to ceiling in the halls and around the kitchen. Canned goods with expiration dates from twenty years ago sat under the table. Painting supplies populated random areas; piled on the chair, sitting in the refrigerator, obscuring the television. With three kids, 10 and under, it was an avalanche waiting to happen.
“What do we do?” my wife asked me.
“We roll up our sleeves and we clean,” I replied.
“There’s just so much.” She looked dazed.
Weeks of cleaning followed. We went to the dump tens of times. We had heated arguments over dilapidated furniture and moth eaten clothes that hadn’t been worn by my wife’s mother in thirty years. We accidently threw away a thousand dollars and my in-laws bank books randomly hidden in an old newspaper. And, the whole time my father-in-law was in the hospital. We made the trek daily from Iwade to the capital of Wakayama prefecture, Wakayama City. Shigekazu would be glad to see us, but tired easily of the kid’s energy. When one of them got a cold, he asked us not to come anymore, because he didn’t want to get sick. It might be understandable now as I look back, but after traveling across the world to see him, it seemed odd at the time.
I transitioned to cleaning the yard when the house started to get into shape. A jungle of roses outgrew their borders beautifully. The house had structures on either side, but to the front and back are large rice paddies. Dragon flies flitted through the new green rice blades, while frogs made a deafening chorus at night. Iwade is considered a rural community, even if the population is half a million. That is Japan for you in a nutshell.
Cicadas chirped incessantly as I approached the one thing I had dreaded since arriving. A large shed, fifteen feet by fifteen feet, sat like a demon in the back yard. When the floor had been completely covered decades ago, Shigekazu laid two-by-fours over that junk and created a new level. This had continued until the space was bulging from floor to ceiling, but the time had come to clean it.
Throwing out their bank books and money had traumatized me. I went through the storage shed as though every item might contain a treasure. It was painstaking work and disgusting, to be frank. The roof had leaked and bizarre bugs made it their home. My in-law’s nephew worked at a soap factory and so they had boxes of laundry detergent that looked centuries old, the leaking roof turning some into indistinguishable masses of gelatinous goo. Containers of moth eaten books came out of the shed, and then I found it, pure treasure; a treasure worth more than the bounty Ieyasu would have offered to unify Japan without war. It was something that might make all the work worth it; something that might give a dying man solace.
The next day we all went to the hospital.
This story is continued in tomorrow's post.