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Who Knew?

My dance with four-item prompts continues–minus the private-eye personalities of White and Wong. This week I chose a different group of items and used them to fictionalize a memorable moment from my life.  I’ll leave it up to you readers to decide which parts are fact-based and which parts are fiction? This week the four items are:

A personalized copy of The Old Man and the Sea

An antique barometer

A photograph of Winston Churchill

A set of barbells

I’d also like to say THANK YOU to readers who have taken a few moments from their lives each week to read my blog posts. As always: Enjoy. And thanks for stopping by.

Who Knew?

It was a somber yet enlightening afternoon, a fitting conclusion to an equally somber and hectic week.

It had begun after my wife and I had initially received the news, made several phone calls to employers and friends, then packed up, jumped in our car, and drove nine-hundred miles to my old homestead. The announcement of my father’s death had taken us by surprise. We’d always figured that Dad would pose a serious threat to Methuselah’s record. Apparently, God had other ideas.

Throughout his life, Dad had always been a man who’d insisted on prior planning and organization, but none of my family believed his demise was something he’d scheduled. On the other hand, my two brothers and I also knew firsthand that his mantra for planning too often was akin to the pot calling the kettle black. In that regard, why my brothers and I had assumed Dad’s reassurance was correct when he’d stated that his funeral was entirely pre-arranged and paid for, I’ll never understand. We should have known better. We should have asked him back then to not only detail his preferred final preparations, but to also inform us where the paperwork was filed to verify his claim. Live and learn.

When my brothers and I and our wives met at the funeral home, the staff was most accommodating. As I’m certain he did with all his clients, the funeral director expressed his condolences, confirmed that our loved one’s body had arrived, and then escorted us to his office. We all nodded and smiled. Everything was smoothly proceeding. When we mentioned Dad’s pre-payment agreement, however, the director’s puzzled expression jammed our confidence levels into reverse. The man showed us the file labeled August Morrow that acknowledged Dad’s prior contacts, as well as a small deposit toward payment for their services. Because our family had had an excellent client/provider history with the establishment, my brothers and I accepted the man’s explanation.

Could the funeral director have been increasing the mortuary’s profit margin by double-dipping? Maybe, but we possessed no written agreement to prove otherwise, and Dad wasn’t around to argue the point. Fortunately, my brothers and I shared a frequently off-color sense of humor, which, in situations such as this, served us well. That day was no exception. Although our wives scowled and chastised our clowning around––how could we be so crude––the funeral director had a blast. Said it was the first time he could recall finalizing arrangements with clients that laughed and made him laugh, too. We all have our talents, I suppose.

Following the memorial and burial services at the cemetery, my brothers and I gathered at the house where we were raised. Mom had passed fifteen years earlier, but memories of her presence remained. She’d loved to play the baby grand piano that still occupied a corner of the living room. Her china cabinet still displayed the patterned dinnerware she brought out for special occasions. Her portrait hung on the living room wall. As if choregraphed, my brothers and I slowly inhaled, then exhaled a sigh.

Evidence of our father’s presence remained as well––in organized piles throughout the abode. Unfortunately, the only person who could make sense of the categorized hoarding was gone. Thus began the task of wading through and deciphering the assorted collections of j…stuff. My wife and I decided to start low and work our way up. My brothers, Glen and Dan, each chose a different room to clear upstairs. Their wives tagged along.

In the basement I spotted the dust-covered set of barbells I’d used in high school. Back then I pumped iron to improve my athletic skills––okay, to impress the girls, too. Though I’d gained strength and a few pounds, my dedication to weightlifting waned when neither of my original goals was quickly attained. When I eventually left home, the barbells stayed behind. I’d told Dad to sell the weight set, but he’d insisted he’d find a use for them. They hadn’t moved since I did.

My wife discovered a box tightly packed with hardbound books. We brushed away the dust, then skimmed the titles on the spines. Many were Reader’s Digest condensed versions of popular novels. A few appeared to be well-read, classics. To a collector, the value of those books had likely appreciated––if we chose to sell them.

My wife pulled one of the novels from the container, opened it, and gasped. “Oh my God.”

“What is it?” I said.

She handed me the book––Ernest Hemingway’s THE OLD MAN AND THE SEA. The publication data indicated it was a first-edition. The flyleaf held the greater surprise.

To Margery,

Knowing you has been one of life’s joys. May all of your seas be tranquil and filled with peace and love.

            Ernest

I stared at the inscription. My mother, Margery, had owned a personalized copy of THE OLD MAN AND THE SEA. But what did Hemingway mean by Knowing you has been one of life’s joys?

I shrugged. “Apparently, Mom knew Ernest Hemingway. Question is, how well?”

My wife’s brows arched above inquiring eyes. “Had she ever mentioned this book, or her connection to its author?”

“Not to me. Don’t know why she wouldn’t––or maybe she felt she couldn’t?”

We shared Yikes! expressions.

I glanced at the publication date again, recalled Dan’s birthdate, then began mentally calculating. Was that why Dan was shorter and didn’t share similar facial features as Glen and me? Geez! At least his eye and hair color matched.

Our dialogue had aroused Glen’s curiosity. He approached with an antique barometer firmly cradled in his hands. I recognized the heirloom that had hung from Dad’s dresser mirror for as long as I could remember.

“What did you find?” he said.

I showed him the book cover, then flipped it open to reveal the inscription, then the publication data, then back to the inscription. His widened eyes and arched brows expressed that his thoughts likely mirrored mine. We glanced at one another.

“Did you know about this?” I said.

He shook his head. “Nope. Mom was always the reader and musician––the artist––but…”

“Think we should show Dan?”

As we pondered that decision, footsteps thumped on the stairs.

“Show me what?” Dan said.

Our eldest sibling strode our way, a framed photograph in his right hand.

Glen and I chorused, “Uh…”

“I found a book,” my wife said.

“What kind of book?” Dan replied.

My wife glared at me and Glen, then nodded toward Dan.

I exhaled. What the hell. “A…uh…first-edition, personalized copy of THE OLD MAN AND THE SEA.”

“Really? That’s probably worth some big bucks now.”

“Probably, but––”

“You should see what I found.”

Glen intervened. “You should read the inscription, Dan.”

Dan set down the wooden picture frame. A photograph of Winston Churchill was confined beneath glass hazed from years of storage.

I stared at the photo. Though fuzzy, the image was undeniable, and it appeared to be autographed. Good Lord, what other treasures had our parents concealed from us?

Dan flipped the book’s flyleaf back and forth between its 1952 publication date and the inscription. His jaw squared. His brow scrunched into a V as the gears whirled inside his brain. “I was born in 1952…”

The way his statement trailed off, Glen and I figured Dan’s thoughts were about to land on the same page as ours.

My wife picked up the photograph and was attempting to wipe the haze from the glass. The brittle backing cracked, fell to the floor, and crumbled into several smaller pieces. She quickly tilted the frame before the photo and the glass followed. “Phew. That was a close one.”

Glen stared at her.

“What?” she said.

“The back of the photo has an inscription, too.”

My wife laid the frame face-down on a nearby chair. We gathered around it and read the cursive writing.

To Gus,

            Thank you for your service and dedication during difficult and often desperate  times. Without men like you at my side, willing to sacrifice their lives in order to protect and preserve freedom and the human spirit, I may have failed my country, and the world.

            Bless you, my friend.

            Winston

The four of us looked up and stared at one another in silence. My brothers and I understood that our father had entered the Army at an early age and had fought in World War II, but in what capacity? We also recalled that Mom was considerably younger than Dad. That aside, there had obviously been some major secrets they’d managed to keep between themselves. Who knew?

 

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