THE GIFT HORSE

Newly married financier Alexander Eaton and his wife Margaret had recently moved into their lavish estate in the Beacon Hill section of Boston. As was the Eaton family tradition, Alexander’s father Samuel presented the young couple with what had become a treasured family heirloom – an impressive painting of the ship The Mayflower. The painting had been in the family for generations and had been authenticated as an original oil on canvas created in 1630 by Sarah Eaton, Samuel’s ancestor and a passenger aboard The Mayflower. The painting itself was magnificent but it was the impressive ebony frame with 24 carat gold stenciled details that was the pièce de résistance.

Alexander and Margaret proudly displayed the painting above the marble fireplace in the grand ballroom of their mansion. It was the focal point of every soirée held at Eaton Manor, especially during the festive Thanksgiving and Christmas seasons and at the debutante ball of Alexander and Margaret’s only child Constance. Alexander imagined hosting a grand fete when Constance graduated from Harvard – another Eaton Family tradition – but that was still a few years away.

Alexander was furious when Constance chose to attend Boston College over Harvard. While there she caught the eye of Tom Stewart, a nice guy from a middle class family but Tom kept his distance thinking Constance was a spoiled rich girl. Constance proved Tom wrong when she asked him out for coffee and surprised him when she said he should call her Connie instead of “that pretentious-sounding Constance”.

Tom and Connie fell in love, became teachers and got married. The idealistic young couple were determined to make it on their own and refused any money from her parents. Connie’s father angrily renounced her but her mother insisted The Mayflower tradition be continued and passed the painting on to the couple. Tom and Connie reluctantly accepted and chose to hang it on the rear wall of the den where it wasn’t quite so obvious. Connie knew they really didn’t need the extravagant painting and all it was worth; she had been secretly saving money every month for whatever unforeseen circumstance might come their way. Their rebellious eighteen year old daughter Ivy disapproved of the ostentatious painting “and all it represented”. She preferred to hide herself away in her room listening to The Concert for Bangladesh. 

Ivy was working as a barista at Starbucks when she met Will Connors, an aspiring musician. They started dating and one night at dinner she announced to her parents that she wasn’t interested in going to college and planned to move in with Will. Tom asked how she intended to survive on a barista’s salary. Ivy shrugged and replied “we’ll manage”. Tom and Connie knew trying to dissuade Ivy would only make matters worse so they begrudgingly gave their blessing.

The following month Ivy moved into Will’s tiny studio apartment and Connie happily presented them with The Mayflower. Ivy was furious but Connie pleaded with her to accept it as a housewarming gift. “Change the frame to a plain one but please take it” Connie said. Ivy put the painting in a closet where it stayed for a few months. Finally she decided it was hers to do with as she wished and tossed it in a garbage dumpster.

Little did Ivy know that Connie had removed the rear panel of the frame and meticulously replaced it after taping an envelope to the back of the painting containing all the money she had saved – one hundred crisp $100 bills – meant to help the struggling couple. Maybe Ivy should have changed the frame after all.  

NAR © 2019

SYLVIA REPLIED

“Walnut, definitely walnut” declared Sylvia Klein. “Look what is says in the brochure”: 

• Honor your loved one by choosing an exquisite solid wood casket. The strong, stately Elite Walnut is a timeless casket that comes with beautiful platinum swing bars and a secure locking mechanism. Like most of our funeral caskets, the Elite Walnut features an Eternal Rest Adjustable Bed and matching pillow. The luxurious silk velvet lining makes this casket an excellent choice: $17,000 • 

“Doesn’t that sound ideal, Lenny?!” Sylvia exclaimed to her husband. 

“$17,000?! What else is in there – the Crown Jewels?! Who pays that kind of money for a casket?! Sylvia, for that amount we can give our grandsons a bar mitzvah feast fit for a king!” 

“Did you see the part where it says ‘adjustable bed and matching pillow’? Oh, Lenny, think how comfortable I’ll be.

Comfortable?? For crying out loud, Sylvia, you’re gonna be dead. D-E-A-D dead! This isn’t a week at the Ritz Carlton! Adjustable bed my ass!” 

“Lenny, why are you acting like an old tightwad? You always said money is just a number. This means a lot to me!” Sylvia exclaimed tearfully. 

“Sylvia, calm down. When have I ever been a tightwad? Our daughters had extravagant weddings. You wanted that chandelier for the dining room which, I’ll remind you, cost a pretty penny. Then there was the Steinway mahogany baby grand and you don’t even play the piano! Then the Jaguar with all the bells and whistles and so many cruises I’ve lost count. Everything you ever wanted I happily gave you but this – this is just a big waste of money!  

“Leonard Klein, how can you say that?! My final resting place and you’re calling it a waste of money! Sylvia wailed.

“Sylvie, I’m sorry. Calm down. Can we please discuss this later?” Leonard pleaded

“Wait, Lenny. You haven’t heard the best part. This is a special for Rosh Hashanah – buy one, get one at half price. That’s only $25,500 for two – one for me and one for you!” 

Leonard sighed deeply. “Oy vey, Sylvia, I don’t need all this stuff! Put me in a plain pine box and toss me off the yacht. You can even write on it ‘Leonard Klein sleeps with the fishes’!” 

Sylvia started sobbing. “Oh, Leonard, how can you say such a horrible thing? The thought of you being nibbled on by fish and crabs and God knows what … I could die!” 

Sylvia, please stop crying. I was just making a little joke. If you want this Elite whatever we’ll get it. Ok? You feel better now?” 

Sylvia sniffled and nodded her head. “Oh yes, Lenny! You’ve made me very happy! Now one last thing: I can’t be buried. I’m terribly claustrophobic. The thought of being underground – I’d die! I want to be cremated.” 

Cremated?!” Leonard yelled, pulling his fingers through what little hair he had. “Now you want to be cremated? Are you meshugenah, Sylvia? $17,000 for a piece of firewood?!” 

“$25,500, Lenny” Sylvia replied

NAR © 2019

IN THE KEY OF GEORGE

With exactly 67¢ in his pocket, George Adams made his trek for a morning cup of coffee. He would walk from his rent-controlled Greenwich Village apartment, buy his coffee and sip it while flipping though his beloved book, “The Complete Organ Method”. 

On this particular morning, he trudged through the slush in his beat-up boots, 67¢ jingling in his pocket. Placing the coins on the counter, he ordered his usual.

“Sorry” said the girl behind the counter. “The price is now 69¢.” 

Befuddled, he exclaimed “I’ve been a patron here for years. The price is always 67¢!” 

Apologizing, the girl explained that she didn’t set the prices. George scooped up his 67¢  muttering “oughta be some laws” and trudged back home. 

George was, to put it nicely, frugal. He grew up during The Depression and knew how difficult his parent’s life was. His father’s last words were Never trust banks!” Fortunately George was an excellent student, earning a scholarship to college and a grant to continue his studies, receiving a Doctorate in Music. 

His first job was assistant organist at Trinity Church. The following year the organist retired. George replaced him and began teaching organ lessons. He made a good salary yet continued his frugal lifestyle by eating canned soup, buying used clothing and drinking 67¢ coffee. 

George’s favorite student was Brad Ridgeway; he reminded George of a young version of himself. Brad worked in the mailroom at Dun & Bradstreet; his salary was so meager the only place he could afford to live was at the YMCA. He was determined to become a great organist some day but music school was beyond his budget. Brad’s parents worked for Walmart back in Ohio and he wouldn’t dream of asking them for money. Times were tough but he just kept on trudging through one day at a time. His only real friend was George; Brad didn’t realize it at the time but George felt the same way about him.

One day at his lesson Brad noticed that George was coughing more than usual and not looking well at all. He asked George if everything was alright, if there was anything he could do. George just shrugged it off, mumbling something about the long-term effects of a case of childhood tuberculosis. At the end of the lesson George handed Brad a small sealed envelope and whispered “Son, if anything should happen to me, I want you to open this. Keep it safe and don’t tell anyone. It’s for your eyes only.” Brad slipped the mysterious enveloped into his pocket, knowing better than to ask any questions. If George wanted him to know more, he’d tell him.

Uncharacteristically, George missed Brad’s next lesson. Brad waited at the church for about fifteen minutes then went to George’s apartment to check on him. The landlord informed him that “the old guy” had passed away in his sleep three days earlier. Crushed, Brad slowly walked home. Suddenly he remembered the envelope. Reaching into his threadbare pocket, he opened it finding a note with a key taped to it and the inscription “For Brad: G.C.S. #520”.

Everyone living in Manhattan knows “G.C.S.” stands for Grand Central Station and the key was obviously for a locker. Brad raced there, found locker #520 and with trembling fingers unlocked it to discover at least fifty paper bags stuffed with $100 bills! Scrawled on each bag was “NEVER TRUST BANKS!”

Dumbstruck, Brad slowly closed the locker and with tears in his eyes, he looked heavenward whispering “Thank you, my dear George!”  

NAR © 2018