John and Mary White were brother and sister, children of Fred and Alice White, Ben Reach’s long time clients and friends. Fred had died five years ago, Alice a month ago. Ben was handling Alice’s estate for the children. There were estate taxes to pay and the plantation to divide as previously agreed, but the considerable financial assets were in the hands of money managers. Ben’s current task was to divide the “things” between John and Mary.
He had given them last week an appraisal that listed the items with photos and values and asked them to see if they could agree on a division. John had called this morning to report.
“We agreed on everything except one thing. We want you to help us with that. Do you have some time today or tomorrow?”
“How about four o’clock today?”
“We will see you then.”
Ben and Joanne spent the day speculating on what the item would be. Joanne guessed a gold necklace she’d often seen Alice wear. Ben guessed Fred’s Parker twenty gauge side-by-side. They were both wrong.
When Mary and John took seats in captains chairs in Ben’s library-conference room, John had in hand the appraisal, opened to a page bearing the photo of a porch rocking chair. The appraiser’s value was $100. John tapped the picture and said, “Ben, this is the only item we cannot agree on. We both want it.” Mary nodded concurrence.
“Can you each tell me why it means so much to you?”
Mary had anticipated the question. She handed Ben a note in her handwriting.
“I can’t talk about it without crying, but you can read it here,” Mary said,
“My reasons are too personal to discuss,” John said curtly.
Ben read Mary’s note, just a few lines long.
“I see…well I know no fair way but to flip a coin, or draw straws, or whatever method of equal chances you two would prefer. Or we could auction it to you privately, either by sealed bids or a live bid auction, and the high bidder pay the other half of the winning bid,” Ben said.
John and Mary looked at one another. Then Mary said, “Mom promised the chair to me.”
“In that case, it’s yours,” John said, and stood. Tears welled in Mary’s eyes, and she too rose at her chair.
“Wait a minute. We must drink a toast to Fred and Alice. Keep your seats. Joanne, bring the ice, please.” Joanne did. Ben poured Mary a Jim Beam and Coke over ice and John a dram of The Macallan 12 neat without ice, and the same for himself.
“To Fred and Alice, God bless them,” Ben said, raising his glass. Again tears filled Mary’s eyes. The three sipped in silence a few minutes, then Sam Nixon MD arrived, looking harried, and joined them for his customary dram. Soon the four were laughing, recounting stories from Harmony Acres Plantation, many involving Alice’s failed holiday recipes or Fred’s
disasters with uncontrollable bird dogs.
That had taken place the first of December. The Monday after Christmas Ben got a call from John White. “You will not believe this, Ben, but on Christmas morning the chair was on my front porch, wrapped in ribbon and with a note to me from Mary. It read,‘Merry Christmas to the best brother ever.’ I feel terrible now.”
“Stop in and see me this morning if you can. I have something to show you,” Ben said.
John arrived at eleven, and Joanne ushered him into the conference room where Ben was working on a brief. John took a seat in a captains chair. Ben handed him a sheet of crumpled paper. It was Mary’s note from their last meeting. It read, “The chair was where mother read me Mother Goose, Little Women, Black Beauty, as I sat on her lap. The chair holds my best memories from childhood.”
“I figured that,” John said. “The chair was where Pop read me Jack London’s Call of the Wild, O. Henry stories, Albert Payson Terhune dog stories. It holds my best memories of childhood too.”
Then Ben handed John a draft of a note from John to Mary. It read, “Dearest Mary, Thank you for my Christmas present, the best ever. I propose that every Christmas from now on we give the chair to the one of us who has not had it the year before, and that we encourage our children to share it the same way when we are gone. All my love, Brother John.”
“Perfect.” John said, and began to copy Ben’s draft in his own hand. That afternoon when Sam stopped by Ben’s office for the Curmudgeons’ daily dram of The Macallan, Ben told him of John’s visit.
“In the end it’s not things that matter. It’s our memories of those who loved us,” Sam said.
May your Holidays be filled with the love of your family members and memories of those
now gone who loved you.
Word & Word
Joanne Maul, Office Manager
Lawyers for Families