Janet Combs (copy)

Janet Combs

Foreclosed homes hold so many unsolved mysteries; it’s kind of like living in the classic board game Clue, only without the murder -- or Colonel Mustard -- or the candlestick. Which means it’s not really like the game at all—but oddly, that’s all I could think about when we first moved in.

So many unanswered questions, brought up by items left behind by the property’s former inhabitants. A pink home-permanent hair roller. A mini-muffin tin. And dozens of pushpins -- stuck in the walls above the doorways to many rooms.

Was our home inhabited by a person who dabbled in cosmetology, baked in miniature and suffered from "affixatackaphobia," the intense fear of bulletin boards?

Before Pinterest, these unfortunate individuals had to resort to using their own walls to irritate other people with their clever baking, decorating and sewing ideas. 

I digress. But because foreclosure is never a pleasant scenario, the property can’t help but take on a bit of a crime-scene feel. All we know for sure is that at some time before the owners left and the bank took possession, the ceiling light fixtures yanked themselves free, leaving birdsnests of wires clustered at their housings in the ceilings.

Under the cover of darkness, the appliances decided to make a run for it, shredding the drywall behind them and exposing gaping holes. In a show of solidarity, the plumbing did its best to crust over into a huge, immutable, two-story tavern puzzle, while the heating and cooling systems decided to give the place the silent treatment.

Our first day on site, we quickly screwed some bulbs into the few operational recessed can-light fixtures; when triaging home-improvement projects, you have to be able to survey the landscape of despair. Next, my husband installed one of those temporary porcelain single-bulb fixtures so it dangled above our kitchen table and illuminated the back door. Altogether, this lighting design gave our new home the cozy glow of an abandoned construction site.

Immediately, we discovered that "Insect Trip Advisor" had put the word out that cheap eats as well as five-star fabulous free accommodations were available at our address. Not surprisingly, the toilets had transformed into natatoriums producing Olympic-caliber freestylecockroaches. The shower stalls were spider spas. And the kitchen had become their "Mall of America" -- take the kids on a ride down the faucet into the rusty sink! Browse the endless shops of sticky cabinetry! After hours, party downtown in that exclusive nightclub, “Defunct Wall Oven.”

Of course, this was just the insect population inside our home. The outside was overtaken by a waiting list of who’d camped out, trying to get a reservation for at least two years -- commence "Operation Insect Eviction."

Fortunately, at one of our trips to the local home improvement store — where we shop so frequently we are mistaken for employees — I had picked up some protective face masks that would screen out dust and chemical vapors. Armed with a shop vac, bleach and rubber gloves, I suited up to attack the inside, while my husband, clad in a bathing suit and wielding a pressure washer stormed the exterior.

Every half hour or so, he’d come upstairs to check on me. He knows I’m not yet used to southern-style insects, who look you right in the eye and ask if they can borrow a fork.

“Are you okay?” he’d ask.

“I’m smrmfrmf,” I replied through my mask.

It took us an entire day to clean just the back set of steps and the bottom row of kitchen cabinets, and we were exhausted. It was time to return to our rental unit, which we secured for an extra week to indulge in a glorious shower. As we locked-up to leave, I thought to myself, “It’s not that bad.” And then I repeated it out loud three times, while clicking the heels of my grimy work shoes together until the truth became clear—there’s no place like home.

Janet Combs is a freelance writer who lives in Georgetown County. Her column is publshed weekly. Contact her athttps://janetfrickecombs.wordpress.com/.