-- In her book, "White Dresses," "Good Morning America" producer Mary Pflum Peterson chronicles the story of three generations of women in her family and the white dresses they wore on significant days in their lives. Pflum Peterson recounts her journey to rescue her mother, a former nun, from compulsive hoarding. Click here to read her candid confessions as the daughter of a compulsive hoarder and read an excerpt from her memoir below.
For the next three hours, the house was filled with the sort of chatter and laughter it hadn’t seen since my First Communion. There were neighbors in the kitchen. There were relatives and friends in the basement. There were my colleagues from the school newspaper staff and fellow members of the community orchestra scattered throughout. Also on hand were the families whose young children I babysat for. I flitted around, greeting well-wishers, graciously accepting cards and flowers and hugs and pecks on the cheek, cuddling my young babysitting charges on my lap. One high school classmate gave me a beautifully inscribed leather-bound copy of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Another presented me with a homemade trophy, lauding me for what he called my acts of heroism in guiding the school newspaper. A dear family friend had lovingly handstitched a quilt, made to match my bedroom. Was I excited? they asked. Was I nervous about being up on that stage graduation night?
I smiled at all the right times, laughed when appropriate, posed for photos. But my heart never got over the near attack it had been subjected to in the moments before that first ring of the doorbell.
It continued to pound in my chest as if it had been forced to run a marathon when it was only in good enough shape to run a mile. At every moment, I was worried -- were the last of the piles safely stuffed away? Would someone open the door to the mountains of debris when I was out of their sight?
The photos snapped of me with guests on that Sunday afternoon show that yes, my relatives and parents and I did manage to clear the house of the heaps of debris and mail and papers in the moments before guests arrived. But those same photos show something else: our efforts could do little to hide the badly scuffed coffee tables, the sagging couch, and the broken chairs that inhabited the home. The carpet had noticeable stains on it; the wallpaper, a paisley pattern that announced itself as a relic of the 1970s, was faded; and two of the lampshades were ripped. There were so many signs of disrepair in the house—too many to count. No amount of fresh lilacs could possibly have masked the fact that our home, with its twenty-year-old furniture and broken appliances, was in a state of decline.
For seventeen years, my mother had been my everything: my North Star, my confidante, my nurturer, my comforter, and my biggest defender. She’d nursed me through countless crushes gone wrong. She’d stayed up late helping me type up the college admissions essays I’d initially written by hand in spiral-bound notebooks. She was the true definition of selfless, unconditional love, always putting her children above all else, always there to offer words of wisdom. And yet on this most fundamental of levels, when it came to keeping house, she had failed me miserably. And she had not only failed me in private. Now she had failed me in public. The image I had worked so hard to cultivate—learned, cultured—had been irrevocably compromised. And so had my impression of my mother.
Every child reaches that point when he or she realizes the parent is fallible. I had seen glimpses of the fallibility before, certainly during her hospitalizations. But for the first time I had come to realize that not only was my mother human—sometimes it was she who was the helpless child in our relationship. It was deeply unsettling.And as much as I adored my mother, was grateful for all the love and support she had given me, I longed, more than ever, to break free.
When I put on that starchy white Daisy Buchanan dress on graduation night and marched into Beaver Dam High School for the final time as a student, it was with a renewed sense of purpose.
My valedictorian remarks compared life to a road. “How fast can we go?” I asked my fellow classmates. “Where are we headed?” I didn’t know the answer to either question. I just knew I wanted to take a route that would get me as far away from the situation that I was in as quickly and safely as humanly possible.
I collected a myriad of awards: two more four-year scholarships, the top English department award, the John Philip Sousa Award. The list went on. By evening’s end, my arms were overflowing with checks and certificates and trophies and flowers and diplomas.
And as the applause faded and the gymnasium emptied and the lights of the school were extinguished, my heart burst with pride, my mind clouded with confusion. Daisy Buchanan had left the building—and was going home to one big mess.