Henry’s Legacy

Last Will and Testament

It was a two pack per day habit that did me in. Alas, this bad habit caught up with me. A terminal case of lung cancer is what they’re calling it, and there’s not a thing I can do. So, being the responsible husband, father, and grandfather that I am, I’m getting my little ducks in a row. A last will and testament is the first order of business. I’ve avoided it for years, but no longer. No more excuses. No more procrastinations. Here it goes.

I, Henry Wilcox, being of sound mind and memory, do hereby declare that this document is to serve as my final will. I revoke all wills and codicils I have previously made. (For the record, there are none, but I was told I had to say this in order to make the document valid.) My longtime friend and executor of this will, Arnold “Art” Patterson, is hereby instructed to distribute my estate according to the following list of bequests:

To my son’s oldest son, Thomas Wilcox, I give my one and only, memory laden reel of common kite string. I have held onto this reel of string since I was seven years old, and it is no ordinary reel of string. On July 23, 1962 I used this very same string to fly a kite 250 feet above the trees, rooftops, and TV antennas of our little neighborhood. This isn’t a world record by any measure, but for a seven-year-old boy in 1962, it was a big deal. And Thomas, here’s what I’d like you to do with this string. I’d like you to set aside your video game controller for half a day and make a simple kite. Then I’d like you to sail it skillfully over your own neighborhood as high as you possibly can using this string. Will you please do this for me? No, you won’t be given an arsenal of guns, grenades, or other weapons. And you won’t get to see your enemies die horrible and gory deaths. And you won’t score any points for destroying space ships, or fire-breathing monsters, or aliens, or evil demons. And there will be no numerical score with which you can judge your performance. But I promise you will be rewarded in a way you never imagined possible. See what you can do! See if you can compete with the silvery winged airplanes. See if you can chase and confuse the high-flying birds. See if you can scrape the bottoms of the cumulus clouds. Revel in the great glory of your golden suburban outdoors. Breathe in the fresh air, and for crying out loud, get out of the damn house. This may sound crazy to you now, but for several hours, you will be the true and indisputable master of the universe, with one end of this string held by your fingers, and the other end 250 dizzying feet high, tied to a paper and stick frame kite of your making, soaring, rising, and diving in the pale blue breezes of the earth’s atmosphere. I promise, you will never regret this.

To Jason Wilcox, my son’s youngest boy, I give my old pair of PF Flyers. I hardly ever wore the darn things. It’s not that I didn’t want to wear them. Oh, I wanted to wear them in the worst way! But a sudden and unexpected growth spurt made these shoes too small for me just a month after I got them. I did wear them several times before my feet grew too large, and they were everything I hoped for. But technically they were no longer new, and we couldn’t return them to the shoe store. So, I stowed them away in my closet, and I’ve held onto them all these years thinking that one day I could give them to someone special like you. I even have the original box they came in. So, they are yours now. What do you think? Slide your feet into them and lace them up. They will make you run so much faster and jump so much higher. Wear them everywhere you go and see what I mean. Play basketball in them. Play some baseball. Play four quarters of football. No longer will you be the last kid picked when your friends choose up teams. And they’ll stop moaning and groaning when the ball rolls your way, and your opponents will come to fear you. They won’t laugh at you. Not anymore! Yes, these shoes must have been designed by Merlin himself to have such astonishing power. They do indeed come from a magical period, a time in our country when Madison Avenue told us no lies. When I was a boy, we believed in products like this and all the slogans used to sell them. And I want you to be a believer too. I want you to have faith. And I especially want you to grow up and look back on day you wore these shoes and took everyone by surprise. I want you to learn how important faith is. I want you to see how faith works. When you get older, you’ll probably realize that it was you all along, but you’ll never have to tell yourself that. When some pious son-of-a-monkey tells you, “I’ve got God on my side,” you can laugh and tell him you have your grandpa’s old PF Flyers.

To my son’s daughter, Amy Wilcox, I give a very special square piece of cardboard. I realize this seems like kind of a dumb gift, but please hear me out. There is a story behind this common piece of cardboard. You have to go back to my teenage years when I was in high school. I don’t know how much you know about my parents, but when I was a teenager, times were tough. My parents were having a lot of trouble financially, and their twenty-year marriage was faltering. Those were not happy times. Not for any of us. There was a lot of arguing, and many hurtful things were said. It was like everybody hated everybody. Yet one day, on April 1, 1969, my mom packed my sack lunch and off I went to school. During lunch that day, I removed the sandwich she had made, and I unwrapped it from its foil covering. I put it in my mouth. “What the heck?” I said as I tried to take a bite. My friends looked over at me, wondering what my problem was. Do you know what my problem was? Jeez, it was funny as hell. My mom had put a lunchmeat-sized piece of brown cardboard inside of my sandwich, and on the piece of cardboard she wrote, “APRIL FOOLS!” My friends and I all had a good laugh. I had to admit it was a good gag. My sweet, wonderful mom! I want you to hold onto this little square of cardboard and try to remember what I’m telling you now, to never, ever lose your sense of humor. No matter how tough times become, no matter how bleak your future seems, there is always a place in everyone’s life for a little laughter. Lose your laughter, and you lose it all. If you lose your laughter, you’ll surely lose your mind. So, please keep this piece of cardboard somewhere extra safe. Maybe you can use it while making lunch for your old child, or maybe you can use it as a bookmark. Or maybe you can just keep it for the sake of keeping it. You know, as a reminder.

To my daughter’s oldest daughter, Julie Cox, I give my old (but never used) Wff ‘n Proof game. You’re probably wondering what the heck this game is. And you’re probably wondering why I’m giving it to you. I don’t know how much you mother has told you about me, but when I was young, we were given IQ tests at our school in the fourth grade. Well, I scored very high. I was told that I was very smart, smarter than 99% of the rest of the world. And my parents told me I was “special,” and I was therefore bussed to an advanced fifth grade class at a different school. It was called the Able Learner program, and it was established to assist nimble brained kids like me excel in academics without being held back by all the other kids who had average or below average IQs. I didn’t mind. It was actually a lot of fun. But back to you. I got the news about your own IQ several months ago. Your mom told me that you were checked by a child psychiatrist, and that you too tested very high, and I although I see so little of you (since your parents moved so far away) I now feel especially close to you. We are cut from the same cloth, you and me. And it saddens me that my life is being cut short, such that we won’t get to know each other better. But so it goes, right? Anyway, I am giving you my old Wff ‘n Proof game. I talked my mom into buying this for me when I was in the sixth grade, but never could find anyone to play it with me, not even Mom or Dad. Not anyone. And I gave up on it. I figured who the heck wants to play a symbolic logic game with a smart person? I actually felt a little ashamed of my intelligence, sadly enough. But, do me a favor, will you? Find someone to play the darn game with. And do your best to win. There’s nothing wrong with being bright, or even having any other outstanding talent. I have seen so many untalented and simple-minded people in the world become astonishingly successful, while the best and the brightest and the most talented folks sit on the sidelines. Find someone to play this game with you and beat the pants off them. Don’t sit your life out on the sidelines. Do what I never had the gumption to do. Step forward! Make your grandpa proud!

To my daughter’s youngest daughter, Emma Cox, I give my grandmother’s silver hand mirror. For years, she kept this mirror in her bedroom along with her hairbrush, make-up, and small bottles of perfume. She owned this mirror ever since she was a girl. I think her father gave it to her. Just think of it! She gazed at her reflection in this very mirror from the time she was your age up until the day she passed away. And now I have it, this wonderful, silvery, cool-to-the-touch, magical companion. If only it could talk to us. What stories do you think it would tell? Maybe it will talk to you. Who knows? Maybe it’ll describe all the young boys who courted your great, great grandmother before she got married. Or maybe it’ll recount the bitter arguments she had with her mother. Or maybe it’ll tell you the kind of music she listened to, or what her favorite dress looked like, or if she ever went skinny-dipping in the pond behind the oak trees on the way home from the old schoolhouse. I’ve been to that lake. If I close my eyes, I can imagine her swimming in it, giggling and splashing. Surely the mirror would know, if only because this mirror knows everything. So, do you know why I’m giving this to you? It may sound silly, but I think this mirror may have supernatural powers. This mirror probably knows about things that I could never understand, that your parents could never tell you, that your friends could never fathom. If look into it very carefully you will see not just your eyes, nose, and mouth, but you will see your life slowly unfolding into a miraculous and beautiful flower, just like your great, great grandmother. I’m sure of this. Like her, you’ll grow up to become a woman in every good sense of the word, now connected to your family history and marching toward your bright future. And one day, while human beings are busy building cities on the moon and taking vacations on Mars, some lucky girl about your age will be given this very hand mirror and told to think about you. And who knows? Maybe the young girl will listen to what you have to say. What a lucky little girl she’ll be!

To my daughter, Rebecca Cox, I give my old king of hearts ceramic coffee cup. Your mother gave this cup to me many years ago for my birthday. It was before we got married. I remember opening the gift, and I recall just what she said as I opened it. She said, “You’ll always be the king of my heart.” Honestly, it seemed like kind of a sappy gift and sentiment, but I’ve held onto the cup all these years. And with each year passing, the cup has had more and more meaning for me. While your mom was still alive, we certainly had our ups and downs, but one thing was always a constant. It was this king-cup, always sitting in the cupboards, always keeping a watchful eye on the realm. And I found that it motivated me, as if it had special powers. Whenever I felt like giving up on our marriage, there was the cup, reminding me to try even harder. You have recently told me that you and Jonathan are having some problems with your marriage, and you told me you were questioning whether the love in your relationship was gone. This breaks my heart, not because I think the love in your marriage has dissipated, but because I think you think it might have. I’ll tell you what I’ve learned about love over the years. It sometimes gets ignored, abused, forgotten, or exploited, but it never really goes away. True love is enduring. Sometimes you just have to nurture it, stoke the logs, and blow a ton of oxygen into the flames. But it’s well worth it. Don’t ever discount it. There is nothing on this earth more beautiful than a man and a woman whose marriage has survived the challenging trials of time. Keep in mind what Confucius said, that “It’s easy to hate and it is difficult to love. This is how the whole scheme of things works. All good things are difficult to achieve; and bad things are very easy to get.” Love, sweet love! Long for it, work for it, and fight for it, and keep this coffee cup as your inspiration, as a reminder, as proof that if you give it your best effort, love can indeed conquer all.

To my son, Edward Wilcox, I give my three-year-old German Shephard, Hilda. Now I know what you’re going to say. “What the hell do I want with your damn dog?” But hear me out before you open your mouth. Open your mind, and open your heart. I’m not trying to burden you, nor am I trying to annoy you with this gift. What I’m trying to do is very simple. I think your mom and I made a big mistake when you were a boy. We never got you a dog. You never experienced the pure and unadulterated joy of owning an animal. Heck, we didn’t even have any cats. Or hamsters. Or canaries. Or tropical fish. So, be patient now and listen to what I have to say. Children are one thing, and parents are another. Wives and husbands are what they are. Then there are grandparents, cousins, aunts, and uncles. There are also friends, acquaintances, neighbors, audiences, bosses, and coworkers. And there are strangers. Let’s hear it for all the strangers! But there will be no one in your life quite like a dog. And I mean no one. A dog is loyal, loving, and trusting like no human being ever was on God’s green earth. A dog depends on you. A dog needs you. A dog loves you no matter what you do, or how you look, or what you’ve done. So, I’m giving you Hilda. She loves walks, and she loves to play fetch. She’ll fetch about anything she can fit into her mouth. No kidding. Grab a stick, a pine cone, or an old shoe, and toss it for her as far as you can. Then watch her run to get it, and watch as she brings it right back to you. She’ll never get tired of playing this game, and she’ll get so much joy out of it that it will amaze you. And it will make you feel so good about yourself, knowing that you can bring so much happiness into an animal’s life by playing such a simple and repetitive game. And when the day is over, and you’re sitting in your family room watching some show on TV, she’ll lay beside you and fall asleep, grateful and content. You know, I always thought there was a great deal to learn from owning a dog, but I could never quite put my finger on it. Then I realized exactly what it was. And you’ll realize it too. Hilda will teach you. In a month or so you’ll be overwhelmed with love and compassion, and you’ll understand that this gift will most likely be the most valuable gift I ever gave to you. You will smile, knowing. And you will cry ten time harder when Hilda dies than you ever did when I died. And that will be okay with me.

Well, that about sums it up. Through this will I have now given my most valuable riches to the people in the world I care most about. As to the rest of my estate, I want my executor to get down to business and liquidate the lot of it and give it all to charity. It should be worth about seventeen million, plus or minus a few hundred thousand. It certainly seems to me that someone on this planet could find something worthwhile to do with all this money. I, think that if it could be used to put some underprivileged kids through college, for example, that I would be good with that.

Signed in earnest, Henry Wilcox