For My Children
The old man died…
And no one cried…
They simply turned away…
And when he died…
He left a table made of nails and pride…
And with his hands, he carved these words inside…
For my children.”
One afternoon I was in the middle of a project at work when I got the phone call that would change my life.
“Derek Kirby?” the voice on the phone asked.
“That’s correct, sir. How can I help you?”
“Mr. Kirby, my name is Kent Taylor and I am an attorney with Fielding, Jones, and Rothberger, a firm here in town. You probably don’t remember me, but we met once some years ago.”
“Hmm. Sorry, the name doesn’t sound familiar.”
“No surprise there. It was a long time ago. May I call you Derek?”
“Derek, I am your grandfather’s attorney.”
“Grandpa Mike?” I asked as a grin came to my face. “How is he? I haven’t seen him in a quite a while.”
“I’m sorry to inform you that he passed about four months ago.”
“What?” For a moment I was silent. Grandpa Mike, gone? “What happened?”
“As far as the coroner could tell, he died in his sleep from natural causes. He was in his 90s, you know.”
“Really? I didn’t realize he was that old. I’m so sorry to hear that. I liked him a lot.”
“Me, too, Derek. Is there any possibility you could drop by my office for a brief meeting, maybe after you get off work? There are some legalities we need to discuss.”
“Tonight? Hmm. Yeah, I can do that. How about 6:30?”
“That would be perfect. I’ll text you the address.”
I tried to get back to the project I was working on, but thoughts of Grandpa Mike and Grandma Dorothy kept coming to my mind. Our family didn’t visit them very often, maybe ten times in all the time I knew him, but I sure remember his ready smile and how kind he was to me.
Grandpa was a furniture maker and his workshop was in a large, converted garage separate from his main house. He was always eager to show me the place and what he was working on at the time. He built custom furniture to order for people, but I didn’t learn until much later that he was a master woodsmith, a real expert in the craft.
His shop seemed like such a perfect place to work. It was well lit and there were rows and rows of tools hanging on the wall. There were a good number of power tools as well, including a table saw, a drill press and several others which were a mystery to me. The smells of freshly cut wood and sawdust seemed very natural and each time I visited, there was something new and exciting to look at.
I was always eager to learn more, but my parents were always in a hurry to leave. We would drive two hours to see him, but I barely had an hour to visit with Grandpa before they dragged me outside, saying it was time to go. It didn’t make much sense. It still doesn’t. Every summer I would beg them to let me go and stay with grandpa and grandma for a while, but they always refused, saying it was too much trouble to drive me all the way over there.
They never talked about him in front of me, but I heard things from time to time that led me to believe they didn’t get along. Mike and Dorothy had five children, but whenever the relatives got together, their parents were never invited. They hardly spoke of Mike and Dorothy and when they did it was critical. I couldn’t understand that, for he seemed really nice to me.
Dorothy died about ten years ago and I think the only reason we went to the funeral is that I kept pestering my folks about it. Dad was the only one of his children who attended and even then we left as soon as the ceremony was over. Grandpa was alone for the rest of his life. I wrote him from time to time and he would always write back.
At quitting time I wrapped things up, then I drove across town and around 6:30 I rode the elevator up to Kent’s office. He was a clean-cut guy about my age and we spent an enjoyable few minutes getting acquainted before we got down to business.
“Derek, I won’t bore you with all the picky details, but basically your grandfather left all of his custom furniture and his workshop to you.”
“Me?” I stammered. “Why would he do that?”
“I can tell you exactly why? Here’s what he said:
“To my grandson, Derek, I leave all of my custom furniture and the entire contents of my workshop. He was always so eager to learn about woodworking and I think I could have made him a woodsmith in his own right if we could have spent more time together. I have some ideas about what he might do with all of my equipment, but I’ll leave those in a separate note.”
“A separate note?” I asked, still a bit dumbfounded at the bequest.
“Yes, he told me you would find it in the shop in your favorite machine.”
That brought a smile. I knew exactly what machine he was talking about.
“The house, the property and most everything else, he left to his children, but believe it or not, none of them were interested. The house is small and out in the middle of nowhere. It isn’t worth much and when you divide that amount five ways, they decided it wasn’t worth the trouble to mess with it.”
“Really? What about the other grandchildren?”
“The will states if the children decline, then everything goes to you, which it will.”
Kent gave me to keys to the place and the next weekend I drove out there. Unlocking the house, I headed inside, realizing I would likely have to deal with 20-plus years of accumulated junk to get the place ready to sell. To my great surprise, the place was clean and nearly empty and only in the bedroom and kitchen was there evidence someone had lived there.
There were half a dozen pieces of beautiful, handmade furniture and in the dining room, the same table I’d seen over the years. Dorothy had always covered it with a large tablecloth and when I pulled off the cloth, I was awestruck at the magnificent table underneath. It could seat eight people and it was made entirely of oak. The table legs were hand carved and the sides were covered with intricate scrollwork. And in the lower right corner of the tabletop were carved these words:
For my children.
So Grandpa Mike had made this beautiful table for his kids, but they couldn’t even be bothered to come and look at it? How sad.
Hoping to break the mood, I headed out to the shop and I found his note right where I expected, under the table saw. Opening the large envelope, I found $20,000 in cash and a letter addressed to me:
To my dear grandson,
I can’t tell you how glad I am to be with you again, even if it’s just in spirit this time. Our times together over the years were some of the most memorable in my life and in you, more than anyone else, I sensed a kindred spirit. I am most happy to pass along my tools and equipment to you and I hope you will put them to good use. Use the money to help set things up.
There was more to the letter, but just then I heard the shop door open.
“Derek?” a feminine voice called. I turned and saw a young woman coming toward me. She looked to be around thirty and she had short, curly black hair.
“My name’s Doreen,” she said with a smile. “Kent called me last night and told me you would be coming this morning. Nice to finally meet you.”
She offered her hand. I took it. “Kent called you?”
“I was Mike’s caregiver for the last three years.”
“Oh,” I replied in surprise. “I didn’t know he had needed one.”
She laughed. “Kent’s a good guy, but his mind runs in 10 directions at the same time. I’m not surprised he forgot to mention it.”
Then she grew more serious. “In his later years, it became more and more difficult for Mike to live on his own, so Kent hired me to keep a loose rein on him. My family lives just down the road, and it’s easy to stop by every day or two to see how he’s doing. I do some cooking for him and since he couldn’t drive anymore, I took him to run errands or just get out of the house for a while.”
“Sounds like it keeps you pretty busy.”
“It does, and the last couple of months I’ve been busy cleaning out the place. I was kinda between jobs when Kent called, so it was a good opportunity to work and still live at home.”
“I’m sure Mike appreciated it.”
“He did, although he hated to admit he needed help.”
She looked around the shop. “He had trouble lifting and bending, so I would often help when he needed it.” Then she turned and glanced back at me. “And somewhere along the way, Derek, I grew to love him.”
I nodded and smiled. “That doesn’t surprise me at all. In fact, I am green with envy for you getting to spend all that time with him. I wish I could have done that, too.”
“He talked about you often. I’m sure he’s glad you’re involved again. Did you find his letter?”
“You know about that?”
“Sure. I helped him write it. He and I talked several times about setting up a place where he could teach young people the craft, so I suggested he write the letter so you could see what he had in mind.”
“It’s a great idea. Doreen. And, you know, I’m really glad to meet you. I think we have a lot to talk about.”
“We do, but how about lunch first? I brought a picnic basket. I hope fried chicken and potato salad are okay?”
“Sure.” We talked all afternoon and ended up going to her parent’s house to eat dinner.
I hadn’t planned to stay over, but they had a spare bedroom and talked me into spending the night with them.
Well, to make a long story a bit shorter, Doreen drove back to the city with me the next afternoon and ended up staying three weeks. She made a number of contacts with the local school system and found them enthusiastic about setting up a new course alternative for their students. We made contact with two young craftsmen Mike knew of and arranged for them to be instructors in exchange for the use of the shop during the off-hours.
If that wasn’t enough, two members of the city council found out about it and they asked if we could expand the program to the community. So now we have an evening class twice a week as well and they're talking about getting us a larger space so we can have classroom.
Doreen is an excellent organizer and she did the bulk of the work while I was off doing my day job. I cleared the drafting stuff from my other bedroom and she camped out there and had supper ready for us when I got home.
We had so much in common that by the time I drove her home, she had an engagement ring on her finger.
I know it sounds pretty fast, but it’s worked out just great. It took a while, but we sold Mike’s old house and property and put the proceeds toward the school and a salary for Doreen. She was also able to get us a grant which provided some additional funding.
I took her to meet the relatives and while they were cordial, they didn’t think much of our woodworking classes; a waste of time, they said. And after that, it didn’t take long for them to start complaining about grandpa and how they got cheated out of their inheritance. I could see Doreen getting upset, so we stayed a minimum time and then left.
“Wow,” she said as we got back in the car. “Have they always been like that?”
“I’m afraid so. I never heard the full story, but Mike first wife, April, died about 20 years ago. Two years later, he married Dorothy. The children didn't approve of her and they never spoke much after that."
“Well, we’re sure not going to have that kind of relationship with our children,” she declared.
We continued down the road a while and finally I turned to her.
"I have something to give you. It's a surprise, but I know you'll like it."
"A surprise? Like what?"
"When we were packing the equipment in preparation to ship everything, one of the movers found a letter addressed to me."
"Yep. It was a second letter from grandpa and he wanted me to know how much he appreciated you spending the last three years with him. He said he grew to love you as well.
Then he said, "Derek, Doreen's a good woman and would make a great partner for you. Do yourself a favor and marry her as soon as you can. Take care of her and the two of you will have a wonderful life together."
I glanced over at her and saw tears streaming down her face.
"He ... He actually said that?"
I nodded. "He did."
"It's beautiful," she said at last and held out her hand to me. I took it. "I haven't told you yet, Derek, but he told me to marry you as well."
I chuckled. "How about that? A woodsmith and a matchmaker. Who would have believed it?"
We were married a month later and we're both looking forward to our lives together. Thank you, grandpa, for blessing our marriage.