Updated: Oct 22, 2021
A couple of months ago my next-door neighbor, Milly, died. A descendant of the original builders of the five coal-cellar houses on our block built in the early 1900s, Milly was born in the house that served the fancier detached houses a horse trot away. Following her death, her very kind nephew, Timothy, who took care of Milly in her final decade, put the unmodernized house on the market.
In Timothy’s words, Milly was a grouch. Quite frankly, she hated us, he said, and we laughed over a morning coffee because we knew the history. One, we were the foreigners who moved into her neighborhood only to create dust and noise with building works. Two, we had a cat that chased the pigeons she fed. And three, we returned her complaint to the Council that dispatched two armed bobbies regarding the cat offender with a counter complaint suggested by the bobbies, and attached a photo of 69 pigeons on the mews roof facing our garden. The third offense really did us in. That winter, our family photo greetings card was returned to us through our mailbox with a message on the envelope: Not Wanted.
Some weeks after the house had been on the market, Timothy offered to show me around. It was the first time I had been invited inside and my curiosity was gratified. The interior of the house turned out to be every bit the post-apocalyptic war museum I had imagined. Every window was screwed shut. There were leaden fixtures and pieces of WWI weaponry littered around the basement floor. Just a week prior, the police were forced to close down the street for an afternoon because Timothy had stumbled across an old grenade with the pin still in it.
The tour changed its tone when we went upstairs. On the top floor was Milly’s bedroom, with a spartan single mattress by the window as its feature piece. Next to this uncomfortably private bedroom was another room, half-filled with boxes. 56 of them, according to Timothy. Shoeboxes. Unworn. In Milly’s shoe size, UK Size 8. A shoe salesperson. From the North. Sold Milly a pair. Every month. She loved her voice.
In the minute or so that it took Timothy to tell Milly’s shoebox story, I felt the floor in her two-story house subside a little, the way our surveyor had warned us Milly’s house might one day. Even from the outside, you can see the house has been unloved, he said. I heard it has been occupied by a spinster grouch.
I casually laughed off the comment at Milly’s expense that day, but a couple of decades and a house tour later, I think I might just have come to her defense, and not just because October 15th is #WorldGrouchDay but also because it’s time for me to shed the mandatory smiles and good-girl niceness I’ve been trained to use as armor. I thought smiles warded off grouches but all they did was keep me from reaching out to them.
So in memory of Milly and #WorldGrouchDay, I’m feeling my way to my inner grouch with the beginning lyrics of the famous Trash song sung by my favorite Grouch, Oscar from Sesame Street:
Oh, I love trash!
Anything dirty or dingy or dusty
Anything ragged or rotten or rusty
Yes, I love trash!
If you really want to see something trashy look at this
I have here a sneaker that’s tattered and worn
It’s all full of holes and the laces are torn
A gift from my mother the day I was born
I love it because it’s trash