Posted by: cornvillenutmeg | August 15, 2021

The Anniversary of a Death


I stopped visiting my father three or four years before he died – I’ll get to the reason – which he did in August, but I don’t know the date.  During the last visit or maybe second to last, his wife, the step-mother, had asked that I go with him for a short walk.  He was still rehabbing a broken leg from a month or so previously.  On our way out the door, apropos of nothing, he said, “If you wipe your razor off with Kleenex after you shave, it will stay sharp longer.”

“Now you tell me, I said.”  I had by then been shaving for about fifty years.

“You never asked before,” was his comment.  I did not point out the near to no chance whatsoever that such a question would have occurred to me at any time in my life. 

He’s been dead now for I think ten years, and I continue to perseverate about that conversation.  You may be thinking a three-sentence exchange is not accurately described in the word conversation.  I can only say you weren’t among my father’s progeny.  Not only was that a conversation, it was a long one.

Here’s why I stopped visiting.  I, along with my siblings, received a letter from some officer of the Bank of America.  We were being notified that instructions for the distribution of income from a trust established under my mother’s will were about to expire according to the terms of the will because our youngest sibling had reached the age of 35.  According to those terms, 46% of that trust’s income had been periodically distributed evenly among us ten children.  54% went to our father.  Absent any further guidance provided by either the will or the terms of the trust itself, that Bank of America officer, Patricia Somebody, had prepared a Memorandum of Understanding for moving ahead.  As of such and such a date, 100% of the income was to be distributed solely among us children.  That would amount to a raise of 5.4%, from approximately $3500 per annum to a bit more than $7000.

In our family’s case, I had always felt the purpose of the oddly split distribution was to assist our father with the expenses of raising ten children.  Why that condition might continue until the youngest reached 35 I can only imagine.  Be that as it may, when the sibling reached that age, it can be accurately said that all ten of us were living our own lives and had been for quite a while. Not only did our father no longer need help with the raising, he hadn’t for some time.  So in my thinking, Patricia Last-name-unknown, had been in contact with our father and it was he who had instructed her to promulgate the Memo of Understanding.

To the best of my knowledge, my mother’s second youngest sister’s will – she predeceased our mother by three plus years – had been similarly structured.  However, when that sister’s five children reached adulthood and were living their own lives, well before the youngest was 35, their father gave instructions for 100% of the income to be directly distributed to them.

Turns out I was very wrong about my assumption of the source for the Memo of Understanding’s language.  Our father, in what can be fairly and accurately described as panic, put the kibosh on that plan in no uncertain terms, for according to him, if those new terms were to go into effect, he would be destitute within minutes.  I could delineate here the absurdity of that notion, but I won’t.  Let this suffice: his income in 1950 was $65,000.  From 1950 to the year 2000, annual inflation averaged 4.1%.  The 2000 equivalent of $65,000 was then $463,538.00.  In the year 2000, he, our father, was still fully employed as officer of at least three oil companies – president of one and vice-president of two.  At the time of the dust-up, he had been retired for about four years, but he remained on the board of directors (paid positions) of two of the three companies.  The size of his independent wealth can only be guessed at.  His home in Newport Beach was tasteful, filled with art by such as Remington, Sloane, etc. His and the step-mother’s cars were new every two years. They favored Lexus. Their membership in a country-club was secure, and their travel was first-class.  Were his share of the trust of which I spoke to have stopped coming his way, he would have had to adjust to approximately $8000 reduction in income each year. Need I go on?

Six of his ten children brought suit with the object of increasing all ten of our individual incomes by five percent, even at the risk of sending him to the poor house.  We did not prevail.

In 2011, when our father died, his wife and our four siblings who did not join  the suit saw fit to keep the information from the six of us.  Okay, I guess, even though we had done what we could to make our bringing of the suit not a personal attack on the man.  Nevertheless, that is the way it was taken and characterized. But why, you may wonder,  keep his death a secret?  Ah, well, try this on for size:  this 98-year-old man with a history of heart disease, with age related leukemia for which he had blood transfusions once a month, who kept falling and sustaining injuries from the falls – what was the cause of death?  A shattered heart, we were given to understand, caused by the suit brought against him by six of his children for whom he had labored and sacrificed all his life. 

Now, back to wiping your razor with a Kleenex to keep it sharper longer.  He could have given  me this handy piece of information ages ago, probably long enough ago so that over the years I would have saved enough on razor blades to afford semi-annual vacations on the Riviera had I but asked.  This got me to thinking about how else my life might have been better had I only thought to ask other questions.

Hey, Dad, do you have any tips for making me a more successful person?

Well, let’s see, did I ever mention keeping your nose to the grindstone?  Oh, I did, well, you must have asked me already, then.  How about, you need to try harder?  Did I tell you about that one?  Then there’s don’t bite your fingernails, don’t pick your nose, don’t fart in a closed car.  And, uh, always close the front door and make sure you turn off the lights.  Keep your feet off the furniture.  Oh, and be careful around my new car.  And don’t let your children use the front door if they’ve been playing outside.  You’ll save a fortune cleaning bills!  Hang up your clothes.  Keep your room neat.  Colgate makes the best toothpaste, never had a cavity in my life, but always put the cap back on.  Don’t wear gray pants with a brown jacket.  Or brown shoes with gray pants.  You never asked me about any of those, did you?

Hm…Let me see.  No, I never did ask him about any of those.  No wonder!


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