Getting Rid of His House — and His Past LIfe

A word of caution to women contemplating matrimony — don’t marry a previously married man unless his ex-wife took everything with her. He may complain for years about how that bitch took him to the cleaners, but you won’t be stuck with those plastic grapes when the two of you set up house.

We’d finally tied the knot after seven years of dating, much to my despairing parents’ relief. Since we’d both done this before, we had wanted to make sure it would be the last time. We spent the first three years of our marriage living in my apartment, but when my daughter became a teenager, it was just too crowded, and it was time to sell his house in an undesirable neighborhood and get one of our own. Since his house had been the domain of a rambunctious Irish Setter, and a bachelor pad before that, readying it for sale entailed extensive renovations and repairs. The kitchen and bathrooms were torn out and refurbished. Cracks and holes in the walls required plastering (all houses of divorced people have holes in the walls). The inside and outside woodwork and walls wanted painting, and new windows were a necessity.

Perhaps this seems like the worst part of getting this house on the market. It was not.

The worst part was trying to convince my husband to part with almost twenty years of paraphernalia he had collected, reflecting all the stages he had gone through during that time — a marriage, a baby, a divorce, a truly memorable (according to him) interim bachelorhood, and, finally, a steady girl and marriage once again. I was not prepared for the personality quirks this man revealed as we rifled through his past.

The first item I tried to dispose of was a black cast iron candle ring, adorned with plastic grapes, which at one time was certainly considered chic. Now, I probably could have lived with the candle ring, but the plastic grapes had to go. Not to be, I was informed. That item cost him $20 when $20 meant something, and he was keeping it!

Right at this point I considered throwing away anymore tacky bric-a-brac I stumbled upon and just not telling him. But I couldn’t bring myself to do something so underhanded, and besides, a man so organized that he hung his shirts and pants together according to color, with the matching shoes beneath, would surely notice missing items. So, I made a mental note to try to persuade him to at least let me replace the grapes with silk flowers, and moved on. (It sat in a box for a decade and was eventually given to the Salvation Army.)

My husband’s 20-year old Mediterranean living room furniture was what I called “early 60s bourgeoisie,” much to his vexation. Apparently, not only were olive green, gold and orange considered stylish in some universe I am glad has imploded, they preserved it for posterity with plastic slipcovers! As our budget did not yet permit us to even think of new furniture, I agreed to use his until we were better heeled. But, since I thought living with olive-green sofas shot through with gold was extremely big of me, I declared that the plastic slipcovers had to go. This perpetuated our second argument, with him insinuating that my daughter and I were not as neat as he would like (“slobs” was actually the word he used), but I didn’t care. I refused to live with the horror of plastic slipcovers, and didn’t give up until I won this battle. (This furniture did not survive my daughter’s going-away-to-college party six years later, and I finally got my overstuffed pink, blue and white floral English Country set.)

Now, on to the high-backed wrought iron kitchen chairs, with gold and black vinyl inserts. I absolutely loathed these chairs, but, since they were “really good chairs,” he announced that he was going to re-cover and continue to use them. I was appeased by assurances that I would have a say in choosing the new pattern and gave in here. (He never re-covered them, five years later we got a new solid oak kitchen set.) His cupboards were full of Corning Ware dishes and serving pieces, and it was obvious his first wife had been a Tupperware demonstrator. I was fine with all that. Corning Ware and Tupperware never go out of style. (I am still using them. Along with the cockroaches, they will be here long after we are gone.) His refrigerator was not new, but large and in decent shape, but the washer had died of some unrepairable malady a few years before, and it was given a decent burial. In the pre-CD era, his Sears stereo and tape deck and three foot speakers were considered quite “rad” and made the cut.

Onto the bedroom. The bedroom suite, like the living room, was Mediterranean (sigh), cost “an arm and a leg” (he “never bought anything cheap” I was constantly reminded), and was in good condition. But I was having “Second Hand Rose” resentments and, now that we were married, I had a problem sleeping in a former wife’s bed. When he pointed out “it was good enough for you to sleep in before we were married,” he almost began another stage of his life — second divorce. But when faced with the choice of new bedroom furniture and no house, or old bedroom furniture and new house, we compromised on a new mattress.

When we entered the basement to survey the chaos there, I found I had inherited a baby crib, bathinet, carriage, high chair, tricycle and miniature picnic table. Since I had made my one and only intended contribution to the human race 11 years ago, I was faced with a dilemma. I could not, with any conscience or sensitivity, ask him to get rid of these pieces, all that he had left to remind him of his son who now lived in Texas. I left it to him to suggest that we donate it to a good charity. (He did, bless his heart, offer to save it all for my daughter when she got married, but even if I did want to store it for God knows how long, we already knew that those old cribs were death traps, nobody even knew the word “bathinet” anymore, the carriage and high chair weighed a ton, and the tricycle and picnic table were already collector items.)

We finally reached his bachelor stage memorabilia. I offhandedly mentioned that, of course, those huge plaster plaques would not grace the wall above the bed in our new home. Still smarting from losing the plastic slipcovers, he roared, “Well, why not?” He could not imagine why I would not be thrilled to have a bull and matador sparring over my head. I assured him his manhood did not need to be affirmed by bulls and matadors. Again, we compromised and saved them for the rec room we were planning. (They ended up sitting in a box for ten years until they were, mercifully, mysteriously broken and disposed of. He still doubts it was an accident.) I faced no opposition when I trashed dozens of empty wine bottles, considered dÃ?©cor in the 80s, the transition from screw tops to corks attesting to the evolution of our palates. And there was no argument when I tossed two years of Playboys and three years of Readers Digests. But the baseball magazines stayed. He also agreed to keep the bank in the shape of a lewdly posed naked woman out of sight of my daughter, and I noticed that the 1976 nudie calendar in the kitchen was gone. I raised a fuss over a sexy terrycloth wrap-around that only covered the vital lower organs, a gift from an old girlfriend who liked to show up in a raincoat and a smile, even after we were engaged, but somehow it went with us. It ended up a floor rag.

A few articles that belonged to me were found squirreled away in drawers and closets: three envelopes of pictures from our camping trip to Potter County four years before that I’d been searching for just as long, two pair of jeans that probably didn’t fit, a box of my daughter’s toys from when she was six, and a torn nightgown. (Ahem. No comment.)

With all of my griping, I was glad that we had real furniture and appliances to start out with (my first apartment was furnished with a dentist’s waiting room chairs). His stuff may not have been my taste, but it was better than “shopping” on trash night. In purging this house together, we became adept at giving and taking, gritting our teeth and biting our tongues, lessons invaluable to all married couples.

And it was a good thing. My apartment was next.

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