For starters, all the harebrained schemes I tried to present to the judge and jury? Blammo. I was outnumbered, two to one.
“When can I have my own car?”
Dad: “When you can pay for it.”
“Can I backpack this summer in Europe with (insert name of boyfriend of the month)?”
Mom: “Absolutely not.”
Dad: “No. And that’s final.”
Cases were settled quickly, back then.
I had no siblings to blame things on; nobody to divert my parents’ attention from my mishaps; nobody to bicker with just for the fun of it. I had nobody to keep me company on tiresome family outings such as funerals, educational excursions, visits to extremely old relatives who smelled like mothballs and lived in gloomy apartments full of antimacassars and fringed velvet lampshades and scary taxidermy displays. I never learned the give and take of living with a brother or a sister. I never experienced sibling rivalry until I had three children of my own.
I prayed for a baby brother or sister. When I reached my teens, I changed my mind and prayed for an older brother who would bring his hunky friends home. I would have settled for an older sister if she could have been counted on to bring some hunky boys home.
When I hear about the bitter family squabbles and irreparable rifts that older, grown up siblings experience while settling their parents’ estates, I think maybe those long, lonely rides in the back seat of the family car weren’t so bad after all. At least I had plenty of time to read.
When my parents died, I got everything. Their house. Their bank accounts. Their portfolios. Their insurance policies. An antique or two. I also got an attic crammed with knick knacks, questionable treasures and the minutiae from two survivors of the Great Depression. I inherited plastic bags of saved string, boxes of disintegrated rubber bands, shelves stacked with empty jelly jars and plastic
storage containers and enough 1970’s-style clothing to fill a Goodwill truck.
I got some good art, but I also got my grandmother’s paint-by-number masterpieces and my aunt’s hand-painted ceramic ashtrays. I also inherited framed photos of unknown people, some messy scrapbooks and lots of cheap, broken furniture.
I got everything – the good, the bad, the ugly and the broken. But I got to pick through it and either keep it, give it to my children, sell it or throw it away.
One of my friends is still bickering with her brother, who is in his 60s, over their deceased father’s collection of gold coins. Instead of the coins she was promised, she inherited her mother’s extensive
collection of holy cards. “Hundreds of cards,” she says.“What am I supposed to do with them?”
Not baseball cards, she says, which at least are worth something on Ebay. She has boxes filled with pictures of saints, the Holy Mother in dozens of different situations, bad reproductions of Leonardo’s Last Supper, and more images of Jesus than you can shake a stick at: Baby Jesus in the Manger, Jesus in the Temple, Jesus giving sermons, Jesus performing miracles and raising the dead and curing lepers. More images of Jesus than she needs.
She also got the remains of the mortgage deed to her parents’ house. Not the mortgage – thankfully -- just the deed. After 30 years, she said, they paid it off.
“They were so thrilled with that final payment,” she said, “they threw a big party and actually set the mortgage certificate on fire. For some reason, they couldn’t bear to pitch the charred remains, so they stuffed what was left in a mayonnaise jar and stashed it on the top shelf in the back of a kitchen cabinet.”
Her brother says it’s hers. The gold coins are his.
Another friend says after her parents died, she and her sisters got together to divvy up their stuff. She inherited la mano del muerto -- the hand of death.
“It’s a plaster hand,” she says. “Just a hand. Back in the 30s, there was a Bela Lugosi movie called La Mano Del Muerto. They must have liked the film, which was a horror story about a disembodied hand that crawled across the floor and strangled people.”
For some reason – who knows why -- maybe as a joke or a gag gift -- they came into possession of a plaster hand mounted on a wooden stand. Her sisters called it La Mano Del Muerto.
Her sisters didn’t want it. My friend ended up with the thing, which she keeps in her bedroom on top of a dresser because she can’t bear to throw it away.
Perhaps lonely wasn’t so bad after all. I read a lot of good books.