Claiming the Leftovers

I learn about life from naked men in the swimming pool locker room in the morning before work.  One pool I go to has a lot of older guys, mostly retired.  They talk about things the doctor told them, reasons their children are getting divorced, what their wives want them to do when they get home, or what somebody ought to do about the country.  I was half listening as one guy told about taking the family to a restaurant for dinner.  Until he quoted what the little girl said out loud at the table:

“Don’t order too much, Grandpa.  You need to have money left over for us, you know.”

His listening friend did not know what to say or do.  He started to laugh, but then stopped.  He looked at his buddy to get some clue as to what was the expected reaction.  His buddy was staring at the floor.  They stood there in awkward silence, finally shaking their heads and turning back to their lockers.  I did the same.

I imagined this occasion afterward and wondered about thoughts around that table.  I wondered if a mother tried to scold this child for saying such a thing?  Did Grandpa try to laugh it off, and maybe even succeed?  Did he give this innocent little girl a pat on the head or a kiss on the cheek?  Or did his face turn solemn, or even pained?  Did he shake his head, as in the locker room at the pool?

And what, pray tell, were the thoughts of a son and daughter-in-law, or daughter and son-in-law, as the case might have been?  What, and how often, were there overheard conversations about the old man’s money and their selfish interest?  Had one of them made direct inquiries about the contents of his will and expressed some expectation in the matter?  How was that taken, if so?  And after the pressure of the moment had passed and he was alone with his thoughts, what were they?

I know nothing of any of this, of course, except that men of age take it seriously and may feel violated by such behavior on the part of so-called loved ones.  At least let the man die in peace before you begin fighting over his mortal belongings.

In a Kentucky farming community, there was an old couple who ran a small dairy.  I think it was 8 children they had.  To see their home or their car or they way they dressed and lived, you’d never have thought this couple was rich, but they were.  They had lived frugally all their lives and saved most of every dollar they ever made.  They’d invested in land when it was cheap and owned a lot of it, including some where an interstate highway was going to be build.

It was not a harmonious family.  Various ones of the children were “on the outs” with their parents and with each other.  So it was an odd situation when the old couple died and their last will and testament was opened and read to the assembled group.  Most of the children were given $25. apiece.  The fortune was divided among the several who remained in favor.

What happened then?  The 25 dollar children took their scornful money and went out to a restaurant together.  The inheriting children quickly sold the farm, the equipment, all the land, everything.

And then began a strange tribute to their parents’ life of toil and sacrifice.  Every luxury that money could buy was sought out and purchased.  Cars, clothing, clubs, homes, trips abroad, cruises on the oceans, all of it. Neighbors who’d known the parents found few words to express their thoughts on the matter.  Some did observe the stark contrast in how the money ended up.  What had taken all those years, and all that effort, to save and accumulate–spent in such a short time afterward.

Mainly wasted, they thought.

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