Today, after I escape hell, we’ll climb back into the Passat for another road trip, a four-hour drive north to my dad’s in Virginia. We’ll spend Saturday discussing what will be ours when the folks kick the bucket, which probably won’t be long from now.
My father is old, 51 years older than I. That makes him 89. And counting.
My step-mother is old, too. She’s 82, 83, something like that.
Still, neither one of them has a will.
This is the paradox of the sandwich generation. I’m closing in on 40, I have a child not even in kindergarten but my parents are doing their best to stay out of an old-folks home. I have to worry about Ella’s eating worms and worry that my dad might break his hip or have a stroke and need 24-hour care. Fortunately, Ella gets to spend some time with her grandparents, and she’ll have photos to remember them. But it’s unlikely that they’ll live long enough to build really solid memories. Papa, Trish’s dad, might share WW II stories. My dad will probably teach her how to make a margarita (he’ll probably start tomorrow).
This whole business about a will really brings the issue home. Neither Dad nor Step Mom had so much as mentioned it until last year. Sure, my dad’s talked about death. When I was about 11 or 12 and visited him for the summer he started saying that “six score and 10, that’s what the Bible [as if he’d read it] promises us, and I’m already their.” Then he’d have another martini and forget about it the next day. I’d get freaked out, go back home to my mom’s and spend the next nine months failing math, waiting for the phone call that told me my dad had keeled over.But last year Step Mom’s sister died, leaving Step Mom with no blood relations — no cousins, nephews or nieces, she never had any biological children. Nada. Just a brother-in-law, who is probably 85. My father fathered seven children — the oldest is 68, and I’m the youngest, thank god — with three women who, consecutively, agreed to be temporarily married to him, and might or might not have agreed to have his children. Step-mom is No. 4, and they’ve been married 36 years. (Maybe this is why I’m bad at math, every time I try to count my family, figure their ages and remember their birthdates I get confused.)
Anyway, last year, after my step-aunt’s funeral and on the way to visit my step-uncle-in-law, which was also after I moved within four hours of my parents, the closest to them that I’ve lived as an adult, Step Mom tells me she wants me to have durable power of attorney for health care. She wants me to tell the doc to pull the plug. It’s because I live closest to them, and because Trish is a nurse, and because I’ve spent many years pretending to know enough about medicine to write about it. And, maybe it’s because I’d actually tell the doc to pull the plug, unlike some of my siblings or half-siblings, who are likely to take her home from the hospital, hook her up to a portable generator and keep her alive while they fill her IV tubes with all sorts of vile liquids, because she banned smoking in her house or she’s told them just how stupid they really are. She can be blunt.
This is fine. I can do this. For her. When it comes to my dad, I know everyone’s going to get so freaking emotional. I know at least my half-sister and/or one half-brother is going to go on a power trip.
Until this past Thanksgiving I thought my inheritance would consist, if I were lucky, of a couple of golf clubs. But at the close of our holiday visit she asked me — no, she told me, she doesn’t ask — to make a list of her household possessions that I would like to inherit. She has two of almost every kind of antique you can imagine — china closets, dining tables, desks, chairs, chests, rocking chairs, several sets of silver and China (she’s Southern, after all), etc., etc. She has a quilt her great grandmother made. I figured all her stuff would go to a museum.
She once said that if we happened to move to Charlottesville, where they live, they’d will their house to me. She doesn’t joke about stuff like this. Recently, she’s said that she figures nobody would want the house, but there would be the money from its sale to split up.
It’s quite a change of fortune, and it’s almost too much for me to grapple with. Part of me is giddy. I’ve never gotten more than a few dollars from my father in my life. Another part is very wary; Trish’s cousins are still feuding with her brother over a contested will eight or nine years after her old Uncle Geezer died. I know that some of my siblings, some whom I’ve been around only two or three times in my life, and I haven’t seen in more than 15 years, and at least two of whom haven’t been sober in 40 years, are going to feel entitled to things.
And a small part of me feels entitled, since I’m the only one young enough to have been around my dad and step-mother, as a couple, since childhood. Their house, and the belongings inside (which are NEVER out of place or the least bit filthy), have been a consistent buoy in my often chaotic life. I knew that every time I opened the front door what I would see, smell and hear. But I also don’t feel entitled, because that’s just not the way I am, and I would almost be just as happy if the proposition had never been made. I watch my 401k like I watch the clock for 5 p.m. I know my financial targets. Coming into even a small amount of money just fouls things up.
It’s also creepy, macabre. Going around and claiming a chair, a table, a desk … at least one of those damn chests, cause they’re nice!
I think we get first dibs!
Baby needs a college fund!