Meanwhile, back inside, the guest bedroom, a.k.a. sewing room, went to hell. Gen usually had three or four sewing projects going at one time. She worked on one until she became stymied by some detail, like the absence of instructions or a missing pattern piece. Then she set the project aside and started something else. When that project hit a brick wall, it too languished while Gen took on another endeavor. Gen never actually put the projects away. She just left them lying where she abandoned them. They gradually disappeared under layers of mail, investment statements, newspaper clippings, magazines, other sewing projects.

My sense of deja vu came alive. My sense of irritation began to simmer. My sense of irony was honed on Gen's complaints that she could never find anything.

The spare bedroom became so cluttered that a visitor couldn't travel from the door to the window, which was growing a nightmare of its own. Gen had a houseplant--a hoya--that she had cultivated since I was a kid and which she carried with her in all of her relocations. The hoya had a vining habit and needed support. Gen bought a section of chain link fencing and hung it up in the window so the hoya could enjoy the view. The hoya didn't restrict itself to the chain link. It branched out and grew between the slats of the venetian blinds, rendering them inoperable. It also dripped sticky sap onto the window sill, which accumulated dirt that the cats swatted out of the hoya's pot.

My favorite "bail me out" plea from Gen occurred whenever Carole, Gen's cousin, came for a visit. "Carole's coming," Gen would gush. "Will you come down and clean off the guest bed for me so she can stay here?" Right. Clean off the bed, as though that was all that would be required. Don't bother with the sewing machine, that pile of stuff behind the door, that other pile of stuff on top of the steamer trunk, all that stuff on the ironing board, that paper on top of the filing cabinet, the pins and needles in the carpet, those suitcases jammed up against the closet doors at the foot of the bed, those boxes of fabric that have been opened and rummaged through and not closed back up and put away...

Soon after Carole's departure from the guest bedroom (which she left in the same state of tidiness and order she found it after I cleaned it up) Gen would have already begun the process of trashing it again. Gen's living conditions could deteriorate from safe to catastrophic in a matter of hours. This trait became a problem of increasing magnitude as her health declined.