In amongst making quince and rose petal jam (Sarah Glover's recipe) and picking wildflowers in Stanthorpe, I heard a story on the radio about hoarding brothers - Homer and Langley Collyer - who lived in a brownstone mansion in New York in the 1940s. I cannot stop thinking about it.
They never married or moved out of their family home. And they continued to live in their family brownstone after their parents had died. They were very well educated (Langley was a concert pianist amongst other things), very well to do and were living what appeared to be quite normal, privileged lives, working during the week as a lawyer and a piano dealer and teaching at the Sunday School on the weekend. But things went a little crazy when Homer lost his eyesight in 1933.
Langley quit his job to care for his blind brother and he did so with absolute dedication. Over time they withdrew from the world and became more and more reclusive. They boarded up their windows with wood and wired their doors shut. Langley only left the house in the middle of the night to get food for them both and pick up bits and pieces that interested him. "We don't want to be bothered," Langley had said.
They started hoarding. Or maybe they had already started. It was only when they were found dead, almost 15 years after Homer had lost his eyesight, that anyone had any idea of the magnitude of the amount of stuff they had in their house. And tragically it was all this stuff that killed them both.
In amongst the many grand pianos and 25,000 books and baby prams, old food, glass chandeliers, bowling balls, medical equipment, thousands of newspapers and hundreds of tonnes of other stuff, Langley had made "nests" in which he and his brother lived, with little goat tracks and tunnels connecting the nests through the vast amount of stuff that filled the house. Langley had also built a series of booby traps to thwart any would be intruders who made it into their maze inside the brownstone.
Tragically Langley set off one of his own booby traps when he was crawling through a tunnel to take food to his blind and now also paralysed brother. He was crushed by debris. His decomposing body was eventually found, eaten by rats, covered with suitcase and piles of newspapers after the smell alerted passers-by. His brother Homer had died of starvation in a tattered blue and white dressing gown only a few meters away.
I wish I could stop thinking about this story, but I can't. It is the ultimate minimalism parable, made even more tragic by their seemingly huge fall from grace. A modern tragedy which, for reasons that are not yet clear to me, has rattled me to my bones.
What this has to do with quince trees and wind flowers I do not know. I will leave that up to you to work out.
Will check in soon, hopefully with more jovial things to report.