Like many others, I am filling my time at home during the CORONA 19 sequestering and doing projects around the house. One project is selling “stuff” on eBay. “Stuff” is a euphemism for unwanted or never used items that Tina and I want to be rid of. EBay is great; stuff gets to someone who wants it and, it is kept out of the landfill. Often “stuff” is shipped back to China where it originally came from. “Stuff” also includes items inherited from our parents. Although it seems we have lots of “stuff”, I take comfort in the fact that we actually have space for our cars in the garage. One of our goals is to not leave a burden of “stuff” for our children.
In my meandering in the attic in search of eBay inventory, I came across a bundle of miscellaneous documents. These had been the contents of “the brown box”. “The brown box” was where my parents stashed items that were “important”; things like diplomas, certificates, marriage and death announcements occupied the “brown box”. After my mother passed I became custodian of “the brown box”. I had completely forgotten about it until now. It was interesting to go through the stack. In the bundle of paraphernalia included WW2 ration stamp booklets and union dues receipts from 1942. Unfortunately nothing was worthy of being placed on eBay. But, I also found one letter. A letter from Charlie to my father.
Charlie was my father’s step father. On the rare occasions I mention him in conversation, I describe Charlie as being a hard individual. And, I understand that he was very hard on Dad in Dad’s childhood. Dad left home to live on his own at fourteen. A sawyer by trade, Charlie had been in the Klondike during the gold rush. In the Klondike, Charlie was a teamster, not a prospector so no lost goldmines. Perhaps looking at the back end of horses all day can put a dent in your personality. Charlie operated sawmills in Washington State when I knew him. These sawmills were small operations consisting of a couple guys operating a sawmill in the open air. The thing that impressed me at the time was that the giant saw blade was missing many of it’s teeth, I was in preschool then. Looking back, there were no safety precautions at all. Men working around a giant toothless spinning blade out in the rain. Dad was always good to Charlie. When my mother would express her bewilderment at Dad’s kindness to Charlie, Dad would say “well, he was always kind to Mom”. One of my recollections of Charlie was that he played checkers with me once. It was not a pleasant experience; I haven’t played checkers since.
Back to the letter. As I read the letter I realized that this, other than his tombstone, was likely the last remaining artifact from Charlie’s long life. As I recall Charlie passed in his late 80’s. Charlie had no children of his own. The letter is essentially a rant about the purchase of property that somehow went awry. Unkind things are written. Charlie writes that he believes Dad should send him money because Dad somehow was involved. My admonition and the point of this entire post is to be be circumspect about what you write. It may turn out to be your only legacy.
In closing I would like to say something further about Dad. I do not believe Charlie was close to properly characterizing Dad as an ingrate (not my word but the impression left in the letter). At the end of Charlie’s life Dad took Charlie in after Charlie was thrown out by Dad’s sister. (There is another story here for some other time). Charlie was living in a lean-to on ten acres that Dad owned in Whatcom County, Washington. Dad brought Charlie to our home in Seattle (I was at University at that time), had a small house built on the ten acres, and let Charlie live out his years there at no cost to Charlie. I do not think Dad was the ungrateful SOB Charlie described in the letter.