I dropped in unexpectedly on mum the other day to find her having a cup of tea with her solicitor, a kindly old man whom I’ve known since I was a little girl. My most endearing memory of him is the way he held my hand when I was a terrified five-year-old in court during my parents’ rather bitter divorce. He’d given me a pink lollipop, and had secured my loyalty forever.
He informed me that he’d come to visit mum with some documents that she’d needed.
‘And to clarify a few things’, he added, twinkling kindly at me.
The conversation got around to money, and I informed him that I was making good and sound financial decisions.
He nodded wisely.
‘Have you made a will?’ he inquired.
‘A will?’ I asked, boggling a little.
‘A will, young lady, a will. It is most important that you make a will.’
‘But I don’t really know what I have to leave’, I began.
He fairly bristled.
‘You have good pieces of jewellery?’ he asked.
‘Well, yes, I think so’, I replied cautiously.
‘You have property?’ he continued.
‘You have pieces of furniture?’ he interrupted.
‘Alright, alright, Mr. S, you’ve made your point’, I replied.
‘Young lady, it is most important that you make a will. You can never foretell the future. Should something terrible happen to you, at least you will know that the right people are getting what you leave behind, the trappings of mortality.’
‘I’m sure that will be a great comfort to me’, I said.
He smiled. I became thoughtful and silent, and drove home in a haze. I realised that I ought to make a will, but I didn’t know where to start.
I decided to first make an inventory of things worth leaving. Not everybody would feel the same about my collection of Beck t-shirts, and I suppose that the old gramophone records of Judy Garland’s music wouldn’t receive very rapturous applause either. I stared at my comic book collection for a long time. I own some rare comics (Baby Huey, Little Lulu, Little Lotta, Wendy the good little Witch, and so on), and I own the entire Tintin and Asterix sets three times over. I also have thousands and thousands of books, although I find it hard to think of them as ‘things’. They have been such good friends, all of them.
I wondered vaguely if my sister would like my stamp collection. My collection isn’t mind-blowing, but it has a few rare stamps in it, and she also used to collect.
I called her the next morning to ask her if she’d like it.
‘I’d love it’, she said rapturously.
I explained to her that I wasn’t giving it to her right away, but that I was planning on leaving it to her when I died. Naturally the explanation that I was making a will followed.
‘You’re going to die and all I’m going to get is your measly stamp collection?’ she asked indignantly.
I was taken aback.
‘It’s not all you’re going to get, and anyway, a couple of minutes ago you said you would love it’, I replied, trying to unload the dishwasher at the same time, and getting the telephone chord entangled around my wrists.
‘I’d love it now. When you die I want better things’, she replied firmly.
‘Such as?’ I asked, almost dropping a glass whilst fighting to get free of the telephone chord.
‘Your set of storm paintings. The old VW. Your copper pans. Your blue and white porcelain collection. Your old walnut dressing table. Your garnet necklace set. Your rocking chair.’
I interrupted her when she paused for breath.
‘Just a minute, just a minute’, I interjected. ‘You want ALL that stuff?’
‘Well, if you aren’t going to leave it to me, whom are you going to leave it to?’ she asked, honey dripping off every syllable.
‘I can think of heaps of people’, I replied, finally managing to untangle myself.
‘They don’t count. I’m the only one that counts. I’m family.’
‘I can think of other family’, I said. ‘Besides which, I can think of friends! And what about my poor children?’
‘Poor children, my arse’, she snorted, pooh-poohing future nephews and nieces with elan. ‘Anyway, you may never have children.’
‘Thanks a lot’, I responded.
‘Anyway’, I added firmly, feeling like things were running away from me, ‘even if the little darlings, bless them, are years away, I still need to think of them and add them to the equation.’
My sister snorted again.
‘And you have lovely things too’, I added.
‘What do I have?’ she asked pathetically.
‘How about that beautiful carved bed frame? And the antique cradle, which I might add, I wanted in the first place. And that gorgeous gold and cream china that you snagged? That turquoise bracelet and watch set that you had given to you. And that blue marble-topped console table that you got given and you’re not even keeping it somewhere where you can show it off properly!’
‘Oh’, she said, trying to hedge.
‘Well?’ I inquired.
‘Anyway. I want more than a measly stamp collection!’
‘Fine!’ I said again.
‘I have to go. Don’t forget what I told you’, she giggled as she rang off.
I hung up and called Mr. S, who greeted me politely and expressed surprise at the ‘phone call. He hoped I wasn’t in any legal trouble.
‘Not yet’, I said. ‘But I think I will be if I keep making this will.’
‘Why is that?’ he asked.
‘I think everyone will want everything that I have. I might get things wrong, and I can’t please everybody.’
There was a moment’s silence.
‘Young lady, I’ll tell you a secret about willing things to people’, he replied.
‘Oh?’ I asked, all ears.
‘Keep it secret’, he said, simply.
‘Ah’, I nodded.
‘For example, I know your mother’s will’, he said.
‘You do?’ I asked.
‘I do’, he replied, sounding as if we were getting married.
‘And I take it you won’t tell?’ I asked, hopefully.
‘I will not breathe a word’, he replied confidently.
‘Oh, er. Nothing.’
I rang off and decided to make a secret will. Mr. S had let me know that I could change it to include people who didn’t exist yet (bless them) at a later date. And for now I would be acting responsibly.
I packaged up the set of copper pans in a large box for my sister and set it by the door to give her when I saw her over the weekend. She could have it right now. I’d had no idea she’d wanted it that badly.
Besides, copper is the very devil to clean.