This is our last episode of the year as Hoarders takes a month-long hiatus. We have two tough women that have alienated themselves from their children both through their anger and their hoarding. But those are the only similarities between the two.
Jan is an older woman in a small Texas town with the hard lines of a difficult life deeply etched into her face. The outside of her small home is blocked off from the world by what appears a hand-stacked wall of cinder blocks. I could picture her wandering through streets and dragging each one home when they were spotted. The hoard has spilled out into the yard, so the wall blocks off most of it from passers-by.
Inside is utter filth. The camera pans onto an unidentifiable surface where the dust and grime is so thick, an ear of corn is buried underneath it, just barely visible. There are narrow canyons worn through the ceiling-high mess, pathways made from her persistent tracking back and forth from her bedroom to the kitchen, both she and her dogs. She lives with about ten pugs and they are much loved by her. She says they’re “Better’n havin’ lip service from a man.”
She has a working fridge on the back porch, a microwave and toaster oven that share the same outlet, a roof over her head, and a bucket in the commode. What more could a person ask for in life? She practically dares you to say something about how she’s living; in her eyes, she’s happy. The TV works, she likes to shop online, and her dogs love her. I don’t think she realizes that there’s more to life than how she’s living. Or at least, there could be.
Jan’s a pistol and reminds me of the tough women in my family, honestly. Tough because you have to be to survive.
Jan has daughters, and they have all but abandoned her. Misty is the last to keep contact with her in some fashion. She hasn’t been in her mother’s house in seventeen years, and it was difficult to maneuver inside back then.
Decades ago, Jan’s husband, an abusive man to both her and her girls, left them, leaving Jan high and dry with babies at the age of 24. Her mother moved in to help care for the children while Jan took over supporting them all. Jan says tight-lipped, “He wasn’t fair to me, and he certainly wasn’t fair to the children.” As to being thrust into main caregiver for a family, she says “It was pretty rough.”
She drank to deal. She drank a lot. And when she drank, she had a mean mouth on her. Her daughter says she has a “vile, venomous tongue.” Jan was the type that thought she was being funny, but was actually spitting harsh barbs. Looks like her husband taught her well. She still doesn’t see just how harsh she was to her girls, which is why they can’t really be around her any more. It hurts too much to have a mother that was cruel and who refuses to accept it.
In one of those rare moments of clarity, Jan says how lonely she was when all of her girls left her at the same time and that she “buys stuff to take away the loneliness of missing people.” She felt deserted, so when the UPS man comes with a new doodad she’s purchased, why, that’s just like someone coming to see her because they care.
It always surprises me when the hoarder has that grasp on why they’re doing it. Now it’s time for the doctors and crew to convince her of it and push through to do the hard work to hopefully overcome the hoarding impulse.
Matt Paxton is first to arrive; he’ll stay and spend the night with her to figure out the best way to communicate. Knowing how Jan lives, understanding her environment is a way for Matt to connect during the therapeutic process and hopefully achieve results more quickly. Jan shows him around and they get going on making dinner. Jan tells Matt that he’s going to have to pay her for dinner, and I couldn’t help but laugh. She sounded just like my grandmother (another sharp-tongued Texas gal. But if my Grandmother was cooking for Matt, most likely it would have been a fried salt pork sandwich with an onion slice and a tomato for “salad.”)
She shows Matt her contraption of cookery and let’s just be clear that it’s a horrible fire hazard. She has a box of matches on top of her toaster oven, along with a dozen incendiary items littering the top. That the house hasn’t gone up in flames yet is a mystery. She does Matt fine, though, giving him a t-bone steak. Well, it’s unseasoned and cooked in a toaster oven, but she’s letting him eat high on the hog.
Matt finds out that her bed is nothing more than a bunch of rugs rolled up with a sheet over it all. He tries to get settled in with all of the pugs following him every step of the way (probably looking for leftover bits of t-bone steak). It’s hard to sleep, especially knowing that Jan’s been living like this for 20 years.
In the morning, Matt meets with Mark Pfeffer to update him on who Jan is and how she’s living. He says the problem Mark will find is how comfortable with this life Jan is after so much time. Misty comes along with the Get Junk trucks and Matt takes her through the house to see how her mother has been living. No more secrets from this point on, it’s the only way to move forward.
“It’s devastating to me to know that’s how she lives.”
Mark refers to the hoard as a protective moat – Jan’s been hurt enough and this is her way of keeping people from hurting her again. Now the only person left to hurt her is herself.
Feral cats had broken into the garage, so as animal control comes to rescue those that can be, the harsh fact remains that she has too many dogs. She’s only legally allowed three in a domestic setting. Her pugs are her babies, and she has to get rid of most of them. She’s visibly upset by this and turns away from the cameras.
The vets reassure her that the pugs are going to a rescue facility and will be given to loving homes. She’s finally having to deal with everything at once, and it’s rough – she’s reaching a breaking point. She becomes more and more defensive as unopened boxes from online shopping are brought out. People are “getting into her business” and she clearly doesn’t like that. Hoarders are first and foremost private people. They have to be.
Matt points out that one of her purchases is chipped; in her mind, it was clearly done by the crew. She’s livid. “One of y’all did that! Who did that?” Once again we see a hoarder unable to believe that they were responsible for their “precious items” being destroyed simply by virtue of being in the hoard itself.
Misty is encouraged to express herself to her mother, but Jan shuts it down with a curt and intimidating, “You’ve made your point.” No, she hasn’t, Jan. Misty actually begins speaking up for herself, getting louder and angrier. It’s good – she’s not ever told her mother how she really feels. Mark intervenes to help the women understand what they’re trying to say through the emotion.
“Jan, your daughter is saying she loves you and she doesn’t want you going back–”
Jan interrupts, unwilling or unable to hear that her daughter loves her and wants better for her. Mark is nothing if not painstakingly persistent. Jan needs to know that this self-exile she’s placed herself in isn’t necessary. And more importantly, her family doesn’t want her cut off from them. It’s “mushy talk” – something Jan’s not comfortable with but so clearly needs.
More than just hearing that she’s someone special, the crew wants Jan to feel like she’s special. Jan and Misty are sent to the beauty parlor after coming to terms with actually still loving each other, and it turns out that it’s a place Jan hasn’t been in over twenty years. In Jan’s words, she’s there “to get beautified.” You can tell she loves having people pay attention to her in a nice way for once.
Meanwhile, Matt is back at her place with a Sawzall to cut through the “poop mâché” that is her floor. Matt, that’s up there with “smells of sugar and butt.” [ I would like to point out that the French word “mâché” means chewed. So. Pardon me while I get out my smelling salts to deal with that.] All in all, 50,000 pounds of garbage are removed from her tiny home. It’s cleaned (gutted, really, then built back up) and it looks amazing.
Even more wonderful is Jan’s reaction. Gone is her tough “who’s gonna love me?” exterior. It’s been replaced with a genuinely shocked and moved woman that honestly cannot believe that people have been so generous as to donate furniture and time to help her. “I’ve never had anybody be this kind to me,” she says, trying to control her tears but failing.
Never ever ever judge a book by its cover, gang. At first glance, this looked like a mean ol’ Mama, more likely to smack the back of your head than kiss your cheek. But once the layers were peeled back, both literally and figuratively, we’re left with a desperately lonely woman that never knew how to love or how to accept love. It’s a woman that looks like she’s ready to try. She says she’s not feeling quite so alone anymore.
Mark says the two of them have learned how to listen to one another. That’s a huge start to a whole new life for Jan and Misty. Just remember: it’s never too late to make a change.
After the Show
Jan used some of the aftercare funds provided to make needed repairs to the plumbing and elsewhere in her home. She’s working with an organizer, looking for a therapist, and is getting along with Misty. They talk a lot more now. Good for you, Jan.
Bebe’s house has that lost antebellum look that is so common in the South. A little TLC, some fresh paint, and that house would be utterly gorgeous. Yes, I’m aware that’s a metaphor. Bebe is a grandmother and a transplanted southern belle. Her husband was a high-ranking officer in the Navy, and they lived well. She had servants at her beck and call, and a family at her beck and call.
Bebe is known for being a Scarlet O’Hara: what she wants, she gets, and fiddle-dee-dee. Her daughters have a lot of love for her. And a lot of fear. Bebe gets what she wants by screaming and throwing things. Her temper is legendary.
But we’re presented with a sweet-faced older lady that loves to collect treasures. At first it just seems like tea pots and some crafty items. Then the camera moves through the house and we can see that there are boxes and stacks and mounds of things pushed up against the wall. In the great room we see a beautiful painting of Bebe and her husband, but not much else in the house is identifiable. And it becomes clear as to why.
In 1982, someone broke into the house and shot Bebe’s husband with a 12 gauge shotgun, killing him in the main hallway. The hallway now is completely obscured by boxes and random stacks of junk. Bebe tells us she used to “see him” there on the floor, dead. Well, you can’t see anything in there now. Hoarding mission accomplished.
The girls know that it’s her grief at play here. But enough is enough. The house smells of dead animals, there have been rats and snakes in the house, and if Bebe doesn’t finally do something about it, the girls will have no choice but to call the authorities and have her placed in a home. It’s no way for someone to live.
Dr. Zasio arrives and is given a tour of the house. After pointing out the beautiful painting of Bebe and her husband, she asks Bebe softly, “How did you handle [the grief]?”
“I think I handled it well,” Bebe says, walking past a pile of filth without a backward glance. She can’t talk about her husband anymore, as it starts to visibly affect her. She’s good at misdirection and denial, and flat out tells the doctor that she isn’t a hoarder. She’s just “sentimental about everything.”
Dorothy Breininger arrives later with the Got Junk trucks, fully prepared to deal with this mythical “temper” of Bebe’s. Which…never shows. Were the girls lying about their mother?
It turns out that a trunk full of pills (opiates, Percocet, Percodin, Quaaludes, Valium) has been discovered and Bebe has drugged herself in order to not have to deal with anything. Dr. Zasio is clearly floored by this. Aside from the danger of it, it’s not productive for Bebe to not ever deal with her grief. That’s been one of the main problems all along.
Bebe doesn’t want to be there because “it hurts. It doesn’t mean anything to anyone else but me,” she cries. The girls are incredibly distraught and have come to the conclusion that their mother’s hoard has become her family.
There’s very little progress made that first day. The girls try to express themselves to their mother, pushing their father into the conversation. They clearly loved and worshiped their father and had to deal with the loss of him on their own.
Peggye, the younger daughter, finds her father’s Naval hat buried in the rubbish. It has visible rat bites on it, and was filled with spiders. She cleans it up and presents it to her mother, furious. Evidently they’d been looking for memorabilia of their father for years, and were never successful. Bebe never helped them, to boot.
“This is really disrespectful, Mama! And to the man that loved you!” Peggye shouts.
Finally, walls start to crumble. Bebe looks at her daughters, both furious with her, with shock. She had always believed she’d been a good mother and wife.
“We used to wet our pants when you came near us. Then you beat us for having wet pants,” they say, beginning to cry and hold each other as they probably did all while growing up. Everyone was afraid of Bebe, everyone. Including her military husband who was besotted with love for her and excused her behavior.
When Peggye starts to cry and tells Bebe that it was devastating for her to not have her military father walk her down the aisle at her own wedding, the final cracks in Bebe’s tough exterior fissure. It all comes tumbling. She breaks down in front of her daughters, finally accepting everything. Her actions, her grief, her loneliness.
Kamie says that her mother taking responsibility for herself is a first. “She’s never done that before.”
Bebe sobs brokenly, “I just want you to forgive me.”
“We already have, Mama.” If you’re looking for candidates for the Best and Most Loving Daughters Ever award, look no further than these two. All they want is a family, and they just want their mother to let them love her. They’re not hung up on restitution or anything else. They just wanted to finally hear that they matter. What amazing women.
This was a complete change in Bebe, and boy, does it show. She’s up and at ‘em, slinging bags of garbage into trucks and turning full authority to her daughters. I don’t know that I’ve seen such a fast turn around in the show’s history. Dorothy takes them in after everything’s been cleaned and redecorated. It’s lovely and overwhelming to the family to see the house looking like it used to.
In the hallway, Bebe says she’s standing right where her husband died. But before the morose feelings can set it, Dorothy points out that she’s installed a wee fountain and many beautiful plants. She’s put “life” back in there.
Bebe has had major insight into her actions over the years, she’s committed to working with her family to rebuild what they once had, and the girls have finally gotten the mother they’ve always longed for. That’s one for the win column.
After the Show
Bebe is working both with a therapist and an organizer to finish sorting through her things, and is spending a lot of time with her family at her home, just as everyone wanted.