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"He always did love surprises. Too bad he couldn’t be here to see my face for the biggest surprise in the history of blindsides."

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07 – Legacy

Mr. Matthews was heavy and very tall—an absolute giant of a person.  He had a pleasant face, but he wasn’t as handsome as his voice.  Being vertically challenged as I was, even normal people seemed tall to me.  But when he stood next to his assistant and several other members of his department, while they made up their plates of catered in lunch food, it was clear that he was big—perhaps the biggest person I had ever encountered. 

I followed him along the table where a full spread from a barbecue place had been set up.  Containers of pulled pork, cole slaw, corn pudding, baked beans and ten different flavors of barbecue sauce filled up the surface area.  I hadn’t eaten all day, but my nervousness in a foreign environment filled with curious strangers suppressed my appetite.  As a result, I dumped a mostly untouched sample platter into the garbage when lunch was over.  In contrast, the plastic cup full of ice and Cherry Coke was completely empty when I pitched that.

After lunch, Mr. Matthews, ‘Buddy’, as I was instructed to address him, guided me to a leather chair inside his office, a place where clues about his past fit perfectly with his body size.  There was an impressive collection of OSU (The Ohio State University) football memorabilia crammed into every available square inch of wall and desk space.  The sense of collegiate affiliation-based kinship washed over me like a warm breeze.  Buddy was a big old Buckeye and a former national title winning offensive linesman!  My grandpa had been a Buckeye, too.  This shed light on the latter’s selection process as it related to the handling of his estate.

I never did absorb his love for college football, but time spent in Grandpa’s company had transformed me into a very enthusiastic fan of The Ohio State University Marching Band.  I was hooked from the first time I saw them perform their famous ‘Script Ohio’ routine, this amazing marching formation of the word ‘Ohio’, in script style, versus print.  Even though from the stands it seemed like a small detail, what I loved most was that a tuba player got to be the dot of the ‘I’, and he gyrated and danced in the most diverting way.  It seemed like a person who would choose to play tuba wouldn’t be such an exhibitionist.  I loved the unexpected nature of the contrast I found in that.  One of our season ticket-holding neighbors said the guy was a dentistry student named Steve.  I don’t know why, but that made it even funnier to me. 

You could purchase the band’s recordings (tuba solos and all) and Grandpa had set me up with an admirable collection, once he’d ascertained my more than cursory interest there.   I liked to think that I was the only person in the world who listened to the OSU Marching Band on my iPod. 

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A large photograph of the Script Ohio scene took up most of the wall above the credenza behind Buddy’s desk, and I gazed at it for an extended time frame, taking a mental journey to Columbus.  I was at a home game with my OSU Alumni Grandfather, the first huge sporting event I had ever attended.  It was awesome.  Over the blasts of music from the band and the roar of the crowd, Grandpa’s voice yelled in my ear explaining what was happening and pointing things out, like the extremely small visiting team’s fan section of wimpy, hopelessly outnumbered outsiders dressed in blue, completely surrounded by an army in red. 

The Buckeyes won, of course, and afterward I was fascinated by the singular experience of walking among a huge throng of such happy, satisfied people.  Thank goodness for the win.   

On our three-hour drive home from Columbus to Louisville, Grandpa and I fell easily into conversation about the game and the stadium and the band and his days as a geology student there.  It was funny to think of him as ever having been a young man.  He’d had white hair since long before I was born.  He never acted old, though.  Even as we flew down I-71, passing every other vehicle like they were going backwards, he seemed youthful in his enthusiasm for life and adventure.  It made his comments all the more anomalous (jarring).

“You know, Ellery, I’m getting up there in years.  It’s hard to say how much time I have left, though I know it isn’t nearly enough. Lately I’ve been thinking about what I need to do to make sure that you’re taken care of when I’m gone,” he said as he glanced over at me before turning his attention back to the road.

“Well, that’s very nice of you, but two things.  One: you’re as healthy as a horse, and two:  I was planning on taking care of myself.  I may look like my mom, but I’d like to think that’s where the similarities end.” 

I didn’t like this topic, as my snappish response must have clearly demonstrated.  He chuckled and then sighed.

“So you think you’re Monica on the outside and Matthew on the inside, is that it?” he proposed, smiling at his precisely correct supposition.

“No.  I’m all me, with a dash of Samuel mixed in, of course,” I answered, hoping the compliment would camouflage my chagrin. 

He liked that.  There was a pause while the weight of the subject matter pulled both our thoughts to a lower altitude.  I never let myself think about life without him.  It was too painful.  For someone I barely knew the first half of my life, he had taken over as King of the second half. 

Grandpa wasn’t finished with the topic and pushed on.

“I’m very proud of you Ellery.  I know your mother babies you, but that’s for her benefit, not yours.” 

No kidding.

He continued, “I have no doubt that you can take care of yourself.  You take excellent care of me right now.  But when I’m gone, the things that used to be mine will be yours, and that includes my house, my savings, my collection and my Buckeye season tickets.”  

He named off his assets in ascending personal value, with the college football tickets at the apex, I noticed. 

I had never given much thought to his financial worth.  Doing so was too closely linked with contemplating his absence.  I’d rather have him than his money.

He continued, “Now, the house you can sell, the money you can spend any way you see fit, but I want your word that you’ll never part with the collection or the Buckeye tickets.” 

I was looking at the taillights of the traffic ahead of us when he said this.  I thought he was joking about me selling the house and spending all the money and so I laughed, but when he didn’t join me I looked over at him and saw that he was being completely serious.

“I want that collection to be our family legacy.  It has pieces that my father found, pieces that I found, and I want you to add to it, and someday give it to your child so that he or she, or they can add to it.  You must never sell it, or any pieces of it.  Do you promise me?”

This was the most gravely serious conversation we’d ever had.  The intensity and finality of his words frightened me a little.  I had to gulp down a frog in my throat before I could get out a very shaky sounding, “I promise.”

“It’s the same way with the Buck’s tickets.  It’s a tradition and I want you to keep it going for as long as you can.  Will you promise me that, too?”

“Do I have to go to all the games, or can I bestow the tickets upon worthy recipients?”

“Well, I guess.   Just don’t give up control of the tickets.  Use the money from your inheritance to pay for them, no matter what they cost.  And then use them…wisely,” which I knew meant ‘go to the games yourself.’

“I suppose I’ll need to find myself a Buckeye for a husband then,” I joked.

“That’s my girl!” 

His clear blue eyes were bright with pleasure as he reached out to smooth my hair. 

“Of course, it’s going to be real trick to find a husband for you,” he said with a strange undercurrent.

I looked over at him in surprise.  He never teased me about things like that.  What did he mean? 

The hurt and confusion must have been plain on my face.  He smiled reassuringly at me and patted my arm.

“That didn’t come out right.  What I meant to say was that it will be a trick finding someone good enough for you.  You’re quite special, you know.”

Yeah, as in ‘special needs.’

“It gives me so much pleasure to see you growing up into such a fine young woman.  You’re not just a pretty face.  You’re something more.  And of course, I know I’m partial, but even so, you give me lots and lots of reasons to be proud.”

I was watching his face while he was talking, deciding between what was fluff and what was sincere.  He was being mostly sincere; I had to admit.

“I know you’re very fond of Hoyt, but, Ellery, if and when you do get married…”

Key word ‘if.’

If I’m fortunate enough to still be alive, would you do me the honor of allowing me to escort you down the aisle?”

I was relieved and humored a little by the absurdity of his question.  I chuckled and said, “Oh Grandpa!  That was never a question.  The real question is what man could I ever prevail upon to marry me?”  I asked, laughing at my joke. 

Then I continued, a bit more sincerely.

“Well, whoever he is, if he even exists, that is, he’s also going to have to ask you for your blessing.  So you need to stick around for at least that long, which may ultimately be the key to your longevity, I expect.  Immortality, possibly.”

Or not.

Suddenly I was back at The Bank of Louisville.  My host was speaking to me and I snapped into reality.

“It’s kind of funny, but you make me think of your Grandfather,” said Buddy, as I pulled my gaze away from the panoramic home game photo on the wall and returned to present time and place.

I didn’t answer, but it wasn’t a question, so I didn’t need to. Instead I smiled politely as he studied me for a moment in quiet speculation.

“You don’t look like him, but you sound like him.  I think it’s the way you say things,” he elaborated. 

I had a habit of speech chameleonism (my term). This was a reflexive, generally subtle adaption of accent and turns of phrase to mimic the person I was speaking to.  Grandpa had the same habit, which was far more pronounced than my own since he didn’t know a stranger and talked constantly with everyone.  This trait of his was no doubt the source of my own, though whether it was a product of nature or nurture I couldn’t be sure.

He blinked out of his abstraction and smiled at me.

“You look very much like your mother, though.  I met with her regarding the sale of Dr. Mayne’s house.” 

He didn’t know it, but he’d just touched a nerve.  The sale of the house had happened quickly and without my knowledge.  My mom had met with the executor, Mr. Matthews here, and together they had decided to sell the most personally important part of my inheritance without even consulting me.  I had been too depressed and out of it at the time to kick up the kind of fuss this action deserved.  Now with a little water under the bridge, some of the ire I felt over that situation had surfaced.  This must have registered in my expression.

“Your mother’s a beautiful lady,” he added, sensing my negativity.

“Oh, I know.  Thank you for the compliment.  What I don’t understand is why the house had to be sold so quickly, and why nobody bothered to even ask me about it.  If it had been up to me, Grandpa’s house would not have been sold.”

He looked uncomfortable.  After clearing his throat he tried to explain his trespass.

“I’m so sorry.  I can imagine that there must have been a good deal of sentimentality attached to your grandfather’s home for you.  But your mother assured me that it was what you wanted.  In fact, I requested a meeting with you about it, but she said it would upset you, so…”

That sounded about right.  She was correct about me being upset, she also happened to be the cause.

“Well, I would have put it off until you were eighteen, allowing you to have the legal right to decide, but we received an extraordinary offer for the property and the estate.  The figure was more than twice the market value that our appraiser had set.  The real estate market had just tanked, and I felt like we’d never get another offer like this again.  So I approved the transaction, thinking it was best for you, financially.”

“I see.  Well, it’s spilt milk now, anyway,” and I sighed, looking down at the hat in my hands. 

It was obvious he had been acting in my best interests, or at least he thought he had been.

“I could inquire about buying it back for you, if you’d like,” he said with a grin. “But first we need to cover the balance sheet of your grandfather’s estate.  You probably didn’t feel any different, but when you turned eighteen this summer, you became a millionaire.”

I laughed because I knew he was joking.  It seemed like a cruel thing to joke about, though, given his job title.  Turns out he wasn’t being the least bit facetious.

“Your grandfather lived fairly modestly, so this may come as a surprise to you, but the reality is that he had accumulated significant cash reserves, a very valuable and diversified stock portfolio, and controlling interest in several business ventures.  Combined with the estimated market value of his mineral collection, the total value of his estate, which fluctuates with the changes in the stock market, is a figure closer to ten digits than eight.”

Math wasn’t my specialty.  I had to think about that statement for a minute, looking at my fingers to arrive at the correct numeric term.   The shock on my face was probably nothing new to a person in his position.  I imagined that certain aspects of his job paralleled the functions of the Publisher’s Clearing House Prize Patrol—except no balloons or over-sized cardboard check.

“Your inheritance will fall to you in phases.  Your education and living expenses will be paid for, obviously.  You’ll also receive a modest monthly allowance in discretionary funds each year until your twenty-first birthday, at which time you will legally inherit the balance of Dr. Mayne’s estate.” 

He took a breath while he reviewed the information inside a file he had opened up.

“There is one notable exception.   Regarding the disposition of the rare minerals collection; according to his specific directions, it will remain in trust, stored here in the vault, to be transferred to your possession, age not withstanding, only when you present a valid marriage license and a signed sworn affidavit that you will retain the surname ‘Mayne.’” 

He scanned my face, trying to read my reaction to my world being turned on its end.  Then he continued, “It’s an odd stipulation, but I have to uphold his wishes.  I think he meant for his collection to be a very nice wedding gift for you, and an incentive to keep the ‘Mayne’ family name alive.  If you should happen to die single, the collection will be gifted to The Ohio State University.”

I had overheard people at the funeral talking about the legendary Mayne Mineral Collection, speculating its financial value.  It was one of the most complete compilations of gemstone specimens in the world.  But what made it truly unique was the fact that the pieces were exclusively collected at their natural deposits by members of the same rock-hounding family:  Dr. Samuel Mayne and his father, Dr. Lars Mayne. The collection contained no acquisitions, only personally unearthed specimens.  That distinction made it truly remarkable and priceless.  I’d seen portions of it for myself just one time, years ago when Grandpa had first moved to Louisville.  It was the first and only time I’d ever visited the inside of a vault.  The stones I saw were all in their rough, uncut form, unceremoniously jumbled together in an old shoebox.  To untrained eyes, they would simply appear to be a box of rocks.  In their cut and polished versions, however, they could rival the crowned jewels of England.

So if they were depending on my romantic conquests to see the light of display some day, well, that might be an indefinitely long wait, similar to their formative days in the earth’s crust.  Hopefully their storage accommodations in the vault were comfortable.   It seemed most likely that sometime in the relatively short future, happy days would befall the budgeting committee at OSU.

After my paradigm shifting conference with Buddy Matthews Esquire, things really weren’t as different in my life as I would have thought.  But then I realized that what Grandpa  always said was true:  Money doesn’t make you happy…people do. 

No one knew the difference in my prospects but me, and Buddy, of course.  And nothing was really all that different.  Discretionary funds were for people who shopped.  I was still depressed and lonely.  I still missed my Grandpa.  In fact, I would trade every last penny and gem to see his smiling face just one more time, to tell him I loved him and say a proper goodbye. 

He always did love surprises.  Too bad he couldn’t be here to see my face for the biggest surprise in the history of blindsides.

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