He was pretty rich when he passed, but we hardly knew the man. Actually he was a friend of my dad, may he rest in peace. I think I met him a few times as a child and I shared his name, but really didn’t understand why our four families were to receive such a generous portion of his estate.
My wife and I held hands as we sat quietly in the large bright well-appointed living room. Everyone sat quietly; smiling and polite. A room full of strangers hosted by the remaining blood family. We held nothing against one another, but there was still nothing to say beyond our respective heart-felt sympathies expressed earlier at the graveside.
Apparently, two of the unrelated families decided they needed some of the money sooner, rather than wait for the settling of the estate. They were in the kitchen with the family lawyer discussing terms of a loan against the coming monies. “To be fair” we were each to receive equal shares of the advance proceeds. I didn’t want to be involved. We were all still dressed up from the funeral and guests at the wake! It just seemed crass. Some unexpected inheritance was certainly nice, albeit undeserved, but I had no pressing need. We were not rich, but our modest needs were comfortably met by our own efforts. My heart was with the family I was supposed to know.
I whispered to my wife, “I’ll go along with whatever they decide, but do they have to do this here and now?”
“I know honey. Try not to let it bother you too much. Why don’t we go over and see if we can help with anything?”
We were warmly thanked for our offer, even though no help was needed, but the leg stretch still felt good. My wife joined a chat with a couple of ladies at the food table. She showed me her wide doe eyes of apology. I gave a nod and a smile to let her know I was okay and gestured with a twirl of my finger that I would look around a bit. After more than forty years together, we communicated very well without words.
There were mostly family pictures displayed on the walls; some old; some new. The fireplace mantle was adorned with carefully preserved images of several relatives long past and completely unknown to me. A fine polished mantle clock droned away its methodical patient cadence, keeping vigil over the revered family treasures. Still, I paid my respects to each.
On the bureau were many pictures standing like trees in a forest from the war decades past and a small finely crafted chest with several little drawers. All were neatly arranged on a fine hand tatted linen runner, starkly white against the dark polished woods. The latest addition was a crisply folded flag. I kept my hands folded behind me and touched each photograph with my eyes, trying my best to appreciate each face and circumstance. There were a few group shots of cheerful young men on adventure, but only a few.
A little old lady came to stand with me. “These were the men that meant the most to him.” Her voice was clear and her words measured and steady. ”They all served together in the war.” Her eyes were clear and vibrant. Her gentle smile somehow evoked a patient wisdom. She delicately touched the chest of drawers. “These are his medals.”
I smiled, nodded my thanks and continued my directionless quest to know more about the man, my father’s good friend, from the pictures that continued their stone silence.
“You don’t remember me, do you? I was his big sister and probably last saw you when you were just out of diapers.”
I suddenly turned with recognition of her voice more than her face. “So you must be … Auntie Thelma?” We were not actually related but I knew of her through my father that she was a well-loved and respected matriarch. I gave her a long gentle hug and searched in vain for a forgotten childhood memory by the scent of her hair. She held my arm closely as she happily launched into a personal oral history of each person and event depicted before us. Gesturing with a free hand she gave them a voice and I hung rapt on every word.
We stopped at a picture in a hospital of several bandaged men and the man we honored today. His arm was in a sling but the rest were apparently badly injured.
She pointed to the most injured man as he lay amidst the others. “And do you know who this man is?”
I looked more carefully, but shook my head.
“That’s your father. These were all the men he saved from the POW camp. Against orders, my brother set out alone, swam ashore, cut through the jungle and rescued them. They had all given up, but he promised to always take care of them.” She held me more tightly and her eyes filled with glistening tears of thanks and pride. “He did. That’s why you’re here.”
Don Emerson is a professional software developer, exercising his creative hemisphere as a private hobby writer since 1998 and first published in 2012. He is gently spreading his authorship wings to finally share some of his previously cloaked imagination.