I wonder what my father might say, confronted with this evidence of the best in human nature.
My parents were secretive in many things. Well before they died, my mother assured me, their only child, my name was on all their various financial accounts, checking, savings, CD’s, IRA, all that.
This was their major rationale for never creating a trust, as I wanted them to do, or leaving a will. They could not understand a trust and a will would have required using a lawyer. The one and only time they ever employed one of those was for my adoption, so family lore said.
The lawyer they hired later became governor of Kansas. But he was still a lawyer, even if he was a home town boy who came back to practice law, and they didn’t trust lawyers. So they never had a will. But it didn’t matter because my name was already on all the accounts.
That wasn’t true. They withheld three accounts. When I took guardianship of my mother in her dementia and discovered them, the bank took care of matters.
They were like this, small ways and large. My father made a heavy copper tube from 1/8-inch sheet copper; he could make stuff like nobody else. He kept $1,000 in twenties rolled up in it, sealed with a tight cap. He would always have a thousand dollars no one could touch.
When he came to live with us in his final weeks of renal failure, it came with him. He wanted me to open it at one point so he could check it. I said I wasn’t going to open it. He might have removed the money long before and forgotten. His assumption would be somebody had stolen it. After his death when I did open it, it was empty.
My mother hid her wedding and engagement rings somewhere in the house before her death, her fingers grown too thin for the rings to stay on. She told my wife they were behind the heat register in the bedroom; she gave instructions who to give them to upon her death.
There were no rings in the register or in any other place my wife searched. In my mother’s growing dementia, she may have forgotten moving them to some place else, or my father, if he knew where they were, may have moved them after her death and kept it to himself. That would not have been unusual.
We kept the house when they died. They had lived there all but three years of their 69-year marriage. My father and both grandfathers built it; two bedrooms. Dad added a front room in the early 1960’s; most of the neighbors thought he was building a fallout shelter.
Our children regard it as the home place, though it is so small it would not hold any of their own families. Nonetheless, they objected to any thought of selling it. So it has been a rental property for 8 years with the same tenants.
Three weeks ago, the property manager emailed. While cleaning the laundry room they discovered the rings tucked away behind the washer. They contacted him and he sent them on to me.
The engagement ring is a tiny diamond chip of undetermined value; the wedding band to which it is fused looks inexpensive, almost suggesting gumball-machine origins. I’d guess they were low-cost, even by 1942 prices.
These were people, my parents, who grew up in the 1930’s Depression Era. Dad was born 1920, mom in 1922, both old enough to remember the good times that went bad. Their teenage years were years of privation; dad on a Kansas tenant farm; mom in Kansas City, Kansas, where her father struggled in construction. The banks had gone bust when dad was 13 and mom was 11; both their families lost money. Homes were getting knocked by the auction hammer. They grew up cautious with money, always paid with cash, largely distrustful of banks. Mostly, they always understood everything could be taken away for reasons they would never understand.
So they hid things where the powers of this world could not claim them. My father was always suspicious someone would take advantage of him and he held a deep distrust of life itself. He would not, for instance, adjust the car title to include my name. I wouldn’t let him drive. He was 91 and in renal failure and, except for me in his way, he thought he was able to drive. He feared I might sell it. (Getting the title transferred after he died is a DMV-from-hell-story involving a minor bit of document fraud.)
It’s been 7 years since his death, 8 since my mother’s. Their Depression Era-induced eccentricities and mistrust and their fears abide in my memory, and yet still intrude unbidden. Maybe these rings will be the last of it.
This brings me to the people living in my parents’ home. I think of the tenants, their gesture of honesty, even concern. They described the rings to the property manager and wondered to him if the rings might have some family value. Yes, they do, though not entirely for the reason they might think, but, yes.
I wonder what my father might say, confronted with this evidence of the best in human nature. As dour as he was, sometimes he was open to surprise.