I’ve carefully avoided going through my Mom’s thing up until now – it’s more from a sense of guilt that “it’s not mine” than any anticipated dread over the memories of my Mom. I even have her purse in my spare room that I haven’t gone through, yet because it’s hers and I was raised not to dig through her stuff. (Well, eventually the lessons kicked in. There might have been a period from say around 5-12 when everything she had was fair game.) Most of the cash she had when she passed away still sits in her wallet and it will likely sit there for awhile longer; it’s not my money.
As I went through her papers last week, I found a copy of my great-grandfather’s will. This will is infamous in our family, because this is the will that ultimately determined the fortunes of my grandmother and her two brothers.
The story goes that on my great-grandfather’s deathbed, the oldest son approached my great-grandfather along with his brother and convinced him to cut my grandmother out of the will. The argument supposedly went that my grandfather would squander all of the money. Now my grandfather’s family was actually of a higher class than my grandmother’s, according to the story, but that fact was carefully brushed aside.
When my great-grandfather passed away, my great-uncles walked away with a considerable amount of cash and other assets while my grandmother got the family house. Now, the oldest son was a shrewd man and eventually convinced his brother, who had joined the Navy to fight in WWII, that it would be better if he gave him all of his inheritance “in case something happened”. This would save the family the trouble of having the money tied up in litigation should anything happen to my uncle. They agreed that the money would be turned back over once my uncle returned safely from WWII. My great uncle returned safely and never saw his share again.
I don’t want to give the impression that the oldest son wasn’t generous a man. During the time that I knew him, he’d swing by in one of his many Cadillacs to take my grandmother out to eat and buy her groceries on occasion. He even offered to help out his brother, who had fallen on hard times, by offering to purchase one of his three sons. (His own son needed a playmate.) You couldn’t find a more giving man.
Looking at the copy of that will caused many of those family stories to bubble to the surface and I couldn’t help but think “this is THE will – I’m actually holding THE will”. I handed it to my aunt. I didn’t want to read it. It may change the truths about our family that I’ve grown up with and those legends have been fun. Maybe fun in a dysfunctional Faulkner family sense, but they are truly the stories that form the foundation of our family’s legends.
As an aside, many terrible things happened in my great-uncle’s family, which are fairly tragic and not bloggable. The lesson I’ve always taken away is that money will never buy you happiness, but it can sure buy you some nice cars, big houses and great vacations… and for some people that’s enough.