Category Archives: Family

Piano Dad

He was given no choice. My grandparents forced him to take piano lessons. And my dad hated it.

But then something clicked. His spirit and soul connected with the spirit and soul of that giant stringed instrument. His fingers figured out how to tickle the ivories, and his ears learned how steal any tune he heard, and send it through his heart and onto the keyboard. And he went from piano pouter to piano child prodigy.

My dad had a happy-go-lucky, jocular personality. And he could charm anyone. His motto all his life was, “Make someone smile at least once a day.”

And he could do that with a piano. Whenever he would spot a lonely old upright or grand, sitting dusty and forgotten in some corner, whether it be in a bar, a restaurant, or somebody’s home, he’d meander over inconspicuously, casually wipe the dust off with his hands, then sit down and start tapping out a slow, hesitant tune.

And then gradually, as his fingers found their rhythm, and as his soul resonated with the great musical beast before him, that tune would build. Before long he’d be in full form, pounding out old standbys, with improvised riffs and harmonies lifting the atmosphere.

A crowd would draw near, and he’d take requests. If he couldn’t remember the tune, he’d ask the requester to hum or sing a few lines. Then his ear would catch it and transform it to the ivories, and you’d swear he’d been playing that song all his life.

A few years before I was born, he was laid off from his job as a machinist. He had kids to clothe, mouths to feed, and bills to pay. So he walked into a bar in Los Angeles and asked what they’d pay him to play their piano.

They allowed him to play for tips.

Night after night the tip jar overflowed, as large crowds were drawn to the bar. He became so popular, it seemed perhaps my dad had discovered a new profession.

But one wassailing evening, after he’d finished burning up the keys, a couple of goons paid him a visit. They asked to see his union card. But he didn’t belong to the local musician’s union. So they gave him the unmistakable message that if he did not join quickly, his fingers would be fixed so that he’d never play a piano again.

Dad said, “to hell with it.” Aerojet was hiring machinists, and they wanted him. He refused to join that damned musician’s union. Instead his fingers returned to metal, and let the ivories be.

My mom and dad divorced when I was two. So when I grew up, he was that charming, funny guy who showed up once-in-awhile and took me to fun places like Disneyland. I loved him, and always felt glad to see him come, and sad to see him go.

When I was eleven years old I attended Cottonwood Elementary school. It was way out in the sticks, and was the last one-room school in Riverside County, California. This old schoolhouse, built in 1897, had a lonely, dusty old piano languishing in the corner. Our schoolteacher didn’t know how to play it, so our music lessons consisted of singing songs A Cappella.

Cottonwood Elementary, where I attended Sixth Grade.

Every morning our 27 little lungs, from first to sixth grade, belted out tunes from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma!, such as The Surrey with the Fringe on Top, and Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’.

One day I stepped inside the schoolhouse while on recess, and there was my dad, paying me a surprise visit. And with him were my brother and sisters, whom he’d pulled out of classes at their high school. He had to do this on the sly, as a surprise visit, because he was behind in child support. My mother had no idea he was in town.

After a few minutes of hugs and jokes, Dad spotted the piano. And true to form, he quietly gravitated toward it, casually wiped the dust with his hands, and started to play, sitting all alone at the keyboard. And his smile quota for the whole year must have been satisfied in that moment, with the beaming look that appeared on my schoolteacher’s face.

Before long my entire class, and my brother and sisters, were all singing songs from Oklahoma!, as Dad hammered out the tunes on the keyboard. He didn’t know all the songs, but we’d just start singing and he’d catch on quick. His fingers danced. The harmonies were lively and full. And our glee at finally being able to sing with that old piano, gave our faces ear-to-ear smiles.

The walls of that old schoolhouse were in danger of being shaken down, with the music we made that day, and I had never felt more proud of my dad than at that moment.

When Dad got into his late sixties, he realized that arthritis was robbing him of his ability to play. And he knew how much his kids loved to hear his music.

So he paid a professional studio to record him, playing his favorite tunes on their grand piano. He was only allowed one long take, from first tune to last. If his arthritic fingers caused him to screw up, too bad. He had to improvise a riff to cover for the error, and move on.

Fortunately, he could still force his stiff old digits to manipulate the keyboard for the duration. And soon, each of us kids got a CD of 30 piano tunes, courtesy of our maestro father.

My dad has been gone for seven years now. But sometimes when I miss him I play that CD. Thanks Dad, for such a wonderful gift.

And now I have a gift for him, on this Father’s Day. I want to help him fill his daily quota of making at least one person smile.

So for your listening pleasure (on the chance that you may like it), here is my dad’s rendition of Home on the Range:

Stolen Quote: Peaceful Cessation

Those who have the strength and the love to sit with a dying patient in the silence that goes beyond words will know that this moment is neither frightening nor painful, but a peaceful cessation of the functioning of the body. ~ Elisabeth Kubler-Ross

My father-in-law, Jake, passed away at home one month ago. But the night before he passed was anything but peaceful. He grew restive, and kept calling on my wife and me to help him with trivial things. Then he began hallucinating. His pain increased, and the pain medication from hospice was not helping. He was a strong man, even up to his death. He kept trying to crawl out of his hospice-provided hospital bed, and it was all I could do to keep him in place.

At about midnight we felt desperate and called hospice. They sent out a nurse who lived an hour-and-a-half away. That hour-and-a-half of waiting for her arrival seemed like a year-and-a-half. Jake would not sit still. He writhed about in pain. Sometimes he seemed to imagine that he was cooking and eating, based upon the way he moved his hands. He bit hard into his hand several times, and drew blood, thinking he was eating.

Finally the nurse arrived. She gave him a strong dose of morphine. But still Jake struggled, cried out in pain, hallucinated, and kept biting his hand. It took about an hour for the morphine to ease his pain and calm him down. At about 2:30 am he fell asleep. The nurse went home, and my wife and I managed to catch a few hours of sleep, ourselves.

Jake never woke up. Thank God! No, thank morphine!! He peacefully ceased breathing the next afternoon. This “peaceful cessation” must be what Elisabeth Kubler-Ross was referring to.

Kubler-Ross fails to mention the vital role of morphine in achieving a peaceful death. Some people just have to have it. Death is not always as easy as sometimes portrayed. When the miracle of modern medicine manages to keep us alive into our eighties and nineties, we may need another medical miracle to achieve a peaceful death. Morphine seems to be the answer.

I hope Jake truly is in a better place. He was a flawed man, but overall a good man. It was an honor to be by his side during his last hours, and to help ease his pain and his transition to whatever lies beyond. If you find yourself in a position to do the same for somebody you love, do not hesitate. You will never regret being there for that person.

Just don’t forget the morphine.

Three-Day Notice

Note: This is a follow-up to Jake, Lisa, & the IRS, my post of April 25, 2017.

Lisa has rented a house from my father-in-law, Jake, for nearly 25 years. And Lisa hasn’t paid rent for over 20 of those years. Jake won’t admit that, but my wife and I know. We’ve been looking at his financial records.

Lisa hasn’t paid rent, because she was Jake’s mistress. Her free rent was pussy-pay.

This was an affair that Jake hid from my mother-in-law until she died last December. The affair ended years ago, but not the need for continuing the cover-up, in the form of continuous free rent. Hush money.

But after my mother-in-law died, Jake decided he’d had enough of Lisa’s freeloading. He told her she had to move or start paying her monthly dues.

Lisa did neither.

Finally after much gut-wrenching irresolution, Jake decided to evict her. On a hot summer day, Lisa was served a three-day notice to get the hell out.

But the pussy-purveyor wouldn’t leave.

And so she was served with a lawsuit for unlawful detainer.

That didn’t faze her. She stayed put, and made nary an effort to move out of her cathouse. She was a tenant and she knew her rights. Which are much stronger than a landlord’s rights.

This led to a notice from the sheriff’s department, officially instructing her to vacate the premises within five days.

Instead, she filed an “ex parte stay of execution unlawful detainer” motion. This mouthful of words allowed her an emergency court hearing, where she could request an additional 40 days to move.

Jake hired an attorney.

On a Wednesday, her motion was summarily denied. On Thursday morning the sheriff showed up at Lisa’s door. Lisa was already gone. It had taken 43 days and over $1,000 in legal fees from the date she was served with the initial three-day notice to get out, before she actually got out.

But at last, the pussy-pusher was vanquished.

However she left behind her crazy sister. Her sister wept hysterically, and angrily threatened lawsuits, and called the deputies “assholes”. But she finally complied and left the property, only to stand one foot off the property line, while haranguing my wife and me with all kinds of invectives, pleadings, and crazy nonsense.

We ignored the crazy lady as best as possible while changing the locks. Meanwhile, Jake stayed at home. He’s an invalid so he couldn’t change the locks, himself. And besides, this is a scene he wanted to stay as far away from as possible.

Even so, it got to him. Jake fell ill later that day and took an ambulance ride to the hospital. Now he is lying on what could very well be his deathbed.

Lisa also left behind her nephew, who was living in the backyard in a motor home. He was very pleasant and left peacefully. But he complained that he had been paying rent to Lisa, and that she didn’t tell him about the eviction until the day before. He claimed Lisa owed some of that rent money back to him.

The crazy sister claimed the same thing.

And Lisa left behind one cat, three dogs, two full-grown pigs (big, hog-sized pigs, not those little potbellies), and four chickens.

Lisa also left behind piles and piles of junk in her front yard, backyard, garage, and within the house itself. Lisa is a hoarder.

A small example of the mess Lisa left behind.

It will take months of work and thousands of dollars to restore this house into rentable condition. Karma is a sneaky son-of-a-bitch. Jake has been wanting out of this world for a long time. But he hasn’t been able to escape before this mountain fell upon him.

As Jake lies on what is likely his deathbed, he has to deal with the consequences of his cheating past. And so do my wife and me, in our efforts to clean up the mess Lisa and Jake left behind.

So I’m gonna be busy for a while. It may affect my posting regularity on this blog, and my reading and commenting on other blogs. Be advised.

This is your three-day notice.

The Senility Test

Looking after an 89-year-old man poses many challenges. And so it is with my father-in-law, Jake.

For instance, it’s a challenge for my wife and I to keep him entertained. Jake’s worn-out body prevents him from engaging in almost all the activities he enjoyed a few years ago. He was once very active. But now about all he can do is sit around and read or watch TV, or stare at the walls.

But he can also play games. And he loves games.

And so we compete against each other at Scrabble, Dominoes, Yahtzee, and Rummy. Rummy is his favorite.

I theorize that playing games with Jake can help us to assess his level of mental capacity. In other words, has that old fart gone senile yet? How about we put him to a test every day? Let’s see how well he does at Rummy.

When my wife and I first started playing Rummy with Jake, we colluded to go easy on him. We didn’t want him to feel dispirited from us beating him too much. But it didn’t take long for this conspiracy to fall apart. Jake kicks ass at Rummy. Now it’s everyone for themselves, in a Rummy free-for-all.

We also track the winner of the most games per month. The monthly champion gets a free dinner at the restaurant of their choice. So far, we’ve bought Jake’s dinner three months in a row.

A typical game of Rummy with Jake goes something like this:

Me: “Let’s see, since you dealt, my dear, Jake goes first. He’s to your left.”

Wife: “Oh yeah, right. Jake goes first!” she repeats firmly and loudly.

A long minute passes while he silently fiddles with his cards. We stare expectantly at him, our patience gradually dissolving. Finally he glances up at our stern faces and gimlet eyes.

Jake: “Who’s first?”

Wife & Me: “You!”

Jake: “Oh, I thought it was someone else.”

Jake fiddles with his cards some more.

Jake: “I can’t play. I only have eight cards.”

Wife: (takes cards from his hand and finds the ninth card hidden behind another card) “There. You have nine.”

Jake: “Oh, there it is. Thanks.”

Jake drags his lame hand and fingers across the table, reaching for the deck. The stridor of his scratching fingernails on the tablecloth sends shivers up my spine. He fumbles with the deck. He has a very hard time picking up the top card, due to arthritis, and numbness in his fingertips from carpal tunnel. Finally he gets a grip on the top two cards and pulls them back toward his chest.

Me: “Jake, you picked up two cards!”

Jake: “Oh. Damn! Sorry.”

He clumsily drops the bottom card (my card when I draw next) upon the table top, face up. I pick it up and put it back on the deck.

Then Jake proceeds to lay out some beautiful runs of three and three-of-a-kind on the table. That son-of-a-bitch sure has some luck!

It’s now my turn. I draw the card from the top of the deck that everyone has already seen. It’s a useful card, but I fear tucking it into it’s most appropriate spot in my hand, because everyone has seen it and would know what else I’m holding. I find a less useful card and tuck it there as a ruse, then discard it, then put the useful card there. Nobody is fooled.

The play goes around. When it’s Jake’s turn, my wife helps him pick up the top card, and only the top card, so that the next card will remain a secret. Then when it’s my turn, I draw it. To my delight, it’s a Joker.

I play two Aces and the Joker, for three-of-a-kind.

Jake: (tsking in disgust) “Another Joker. You always get the Jokers. I just don’t understand it.”

I roll my eyes and sigh. I’ve given up on this controversy. Jake began making this claim that I always get the Jokers, from the time we began our Rummy tournaments. His little under-the-skin implication is that I’m a cheater, and have somehow figured out how to always conjure the Jokers from the deck.

I don’t even like Rummy. And why would I cheat an 89-year-old man?

At one point I kept a tally of who was getting the Jokers, just to prove that I wasn’t cheating. And then I was able to smugly point out to Jake that actually he had gotten the most Jokers over the past few games. Jake replied that it was awfully strange that he was suddenly getting so many Jokers after I started keeping track.

That old bastard is so good with the needle. Always getting it under my skin.

Jake gets a look at my upcoming draw card just about every time he clumsily draws without assistance. But it all evens out. His arthritic, numb fingers can’t hold his own cards in his hand very well, and they often escape to gravity, revealing themselves on the table top. I shamelessly make a mental note.

We bought a special card holder that Jake can use, to assist him at keeping his cards from dropping. But he refuses to use it. He’s painfully independent. He wants to get by in this world with as little help as possible.

We play Rummy every night, routinely murdering each other in our minds, as one player or other picks a card from the pile that someone else wants, or makes a big play, or goes out.

Mostly we murder Jake. For all his fumbling and bumbling, he thwarts our strategies much more often than we thwart his.

And so, Jake keeps passing the senility test.

After the game he pushes himself up from the table, exerting every last ounce of muscular effort he can manage, to render his broken old frame upright. And all this exertion forces him to pass a big, long, loud fart. And then he glances at our panicked faces and cackles wickedly.

It happens EVERY time. And we know it’s going to happen. Why don’t we ever get up first and make a run for it? I don’t know.

I guess it is us who cannot pass the senility test.

Jake, Lisa, and the IRS

“I learned a long time ago, never to mess with the IRS,” Jake repeated firmly whenever this topic of discussion came up. Which has lately left me feeling puzzled.

I snuck into Jake’s records. I had to be sneaky; Jake didn’t want me nosing around in there. But Jake is dying. Soon my wife will inherit his business. She and I need to know how he’s running it. And he’s secretive.

Before my mother-in-law died, I offered to do Jake’s bookkeeping for free. After all, he was getting pretty old and I knew how much he hated paperwork. I thought he’d jump at the offer. He didn’t, but my mother-in-law did. She shouted, “Yes! Please! And don’t ask him! Just do it!”

But Jake just laughed and said he could handle it himself. No problem. He politely disobliged my offer. My mother-in-law’s gimlet eyes murdered her husband where he stood. But how could I go over his head? A consensus was required in this situation.

But now my mother-in-law is dead. And Jake is dying.

My mother-in-law passed away a few months ago, and my wife and I have moved in with Jake, so we can help him as his own health fails. Now that I live in his house, I’ve been able to discover where he hides his receipt book. I’ve been sneaking it out from time-to-time, and organizing a set of books for him. Or actually, for my wife, so that she can file his final tax return after he dies.

Jake owns a number of rentals in our town. He notes in his receipt book how much each tenant pays, whenever they pay the rent. But something in these records is not adding up. It appears that sometimes his tenants are getting away with not paying the rent. And there is one renter who appears to have never paid rent.

Is this guy who always claims he doesn’t cheat the IRS, lying to us? Is he really taking rent money under the table?

My wife delicately broached the subject with her dying dad. He assertively denied that he would ever allow any renter get away with not paying the rent, and he definitely affirmed that he claims all of his income.

It’s taken us a while, but we are starting to put two-and-two together. Here’s what we suspect is going on:

About five years ago, my wife confronted Lisa at the bingo hall. She shouted at her,over the heads of a startled crowd, calling her a bitch, whore and slut. Lisa was shocked. She thought they had been friends. Almost family.

But my wife was responding to something one of her bingo friends told her. She had reported to my wife that Lisa was bragging to people at the bingo hall that one day she was going to inherit a lot of property from Jake, and be rich.

Lisa has rented from Jake for over twenty years. We’ve always suspected Jake was having an affair with her. And Lisa is the one who appears to not have ever paid rent.

I snuck into his tax records. Based on these records, it appears that Lisa really has been paying rent. But based on the receipt book, Lisa really hasn’t. So what is Jake up to?

The best we can figure out is that Jack is underreporting income from some of his rentals, and applying that underreported rental income to the rental that Lisa lives in. So Jake is not really cheating the IRS. He’s claiming all of his income, and dutifully paying all of his taxes. But he’s also weaving a complex web of duplicity, to hide his affair with Lisa. And he’s has apparently done this for many years, hoping to fool his wife.

I doubt she was fooled. Now I understand why she was so eager to have me take over the bookkeeping. She knew I’d start asking some uncomfortable questions.

Jake is not a tax cheat. Jake is a wife cheat.

Hospice Tales

Tale #1

My grandmother was 93 years old and in failing health. Her doctor told her to choose between moving into a rest home or moving in with family members. She could no longer live alone.

She chose to move in with my wife and me. We nursed her back to health, and she did okay for a few years. But then the unrelenting dissipating effects of aging regained control, and her life course headed downhill again.

One day my wife rushed her to the emergency room over some sort of ache or pain that Grandma grew panicky about. The doctor at the emergency room scolded her. “You’re old!” he declared. “We can’t help you here, and you’re taking up space we need to use for those we CAN help.”

He gave her a choice. Either a rest home or hospice. She chose hospice.

For the next two months hospice workers visited our house every day like cheerful little gray ghosts. They took away her life-sustaining medication and replaced it with various kinds of pain alleviators.

My grandmother became tabescent and weak. First she could no longer walk to the living room and watch TV. Then she could no longer make the journey to the bathroom. Finally she could no longer stand, and was completely confined to her bed.

Two months after entering hospice she died at the age of 96. Her official cause of death was congestive heart failure. And to be fair, her death cart had been coasting downhill for quite a few years, due to this disease.

But it seems hospice got behind that cart and gave it quite a hard shove, accelerating it over the inevitable precipice, plunging her into the next world.

Tale #2

About ten years ago my mother-in-law felt out of breath. She was diagnosed with emphysema. Or Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), as they call it these days. She immediately quit smoking, but it was too late. There’s no cure for COPD.

She spent the rest of her life tethered to a thin, translucent tube attached to an oxygen concentrator.

Death from COPD is death by suffocation. It’s as if something is wrapped around your chest and every day it very gradually, imperceptibly tightens. It’s kind of like being attacked by an anaconda that’s in no hurry to finish off its prey.

About six weeks ago the suffocation effect became unbearable for my suffering mother-in-law. It made her too tired to sit up for very long. But laying down made the effect worse.

Finally she asked for hospice.

In the fading light of a December evening, my mother-in-law sat at the dining room table with her family and a hospice worker. We helped her understand and answer the questions the hospice worker asked, as she conducted the initial interview. My mother-in-law’s spirit was up. She was very happy to go through with this process. She eagerly signed the paperwork. And this 87-year-old woman who was so loved by her family, and who had lived such a long, good life, cheerfully told the hospice worker, “I’m looking forward to my picnic in heaven.”

The hospice worker handed my wife an amber bottle of pills. She said, “When she feels anxious, give her two of these every six hours.”

The hospice worker departed at 5:45 that evening.

At 2:30 the next morning my mother-in-law writhed in bed, wracked by the suffocation effect of COPD. She felt very anxious. She was given two of the anxiolytics from the amber bottle. Then she was left to fall asleep.

At 7:00 in the morning she was found dead in her bed.

It appears that hospice completed its work very swiftly, in my mother-in-law’s case. And we all hope she is now enjoying her picnic in heaven.

A Breezy Day. 1887. Charles Courtney Curran.

A Breezy Day. 1887. Charles Courtney Curran.

Tail End?

My father-in-law is now without the partner he has known and lived with for 65 years. He doesn’t like living alone, so my wife and I are moving in with him. We are putting our house up for sale. We plan to give my father-in-law the company he craves until his turn comes to join his wife at the picnic in heaven.

But his house requires a few renovations. For one thing, we’re pulling up the carpet that pets have been shitting on for the past 40 years, and replacing it with floor tile. We want to live in sanitary conditions.

Also, our house needs to be fixed up a little before we can put it on the market.

It’s all a bit much for this old curmudgeon. I’ve been missing quite a few naps. And I’m finding it harder and harder to keep up with my idle-time pursuits. Something has to give.

I’ve decided that one of the things I’ll be sacrificing is social media. I just don’t have much time for it any more. So this will be my last post for a long time. Maybe forever.

I have enjoyed WordPress, and will miss my blogging buddies. I can’t name all of you, but will say that I’ll sure miss Gibber, Elyse, Smilecalm, Joan, Joan, Joanne, Nancy, GP Cox, Victo, X, Bitter Ben, and, and, well hell, all of you. I may occasionally have a few minutes to stop by and comment on your posts, but don’t count on it.

I’ll keep this blog open for perusal (for those who have no life). And I might return. Or I might not. Unicorns run in many different directions, so who knows where the chase will lead me. But I’m not yet completely prepared to say that this is the end of my blog.

That day may come, but for now I guess it’s not yet time to hand this thing over to hospice.

Unicorn mosaic on a 1213 church floor in Ravenna, Italy.

Unicorn mosaic on a 1213 church floor in Ravenna, Italy.

Friendship With Joey


He took my daughter to the prom. That’s how I first met Joey. Beneath that tux was a short, lively, rough-cut fellow with a charming sense of humor that left me feeling bemused.

They met in Special-Ed class. They both had a pretty bad case of Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), and so the stuff most students found easy and mundane in high school was, for some mysterious reason, a tough challenge for these two to focus on.

Joey soon drifted away from my daughter’s life, carried away by the very ADD that brought them together. I forgot about him. Until about ten years later. My niece got pregnant with her second child, and Joey was the father. Joey had returned to my life.

This would be his first child, and he was very proud and excited about it. He and my niece became an item. He had impregnated her in the parking lot of a bar the very first night that they met.

They dated and kindled a romance. And they would drop by our house and visit occasionally. Joey was loaded with charisma and energy. He was always warm, affable, and full of questions that made him seem truly interested in those around him. My niece, on the other hand, was shy and demure; a wallflower who spoke little.

They did not have much in common, and their romance broke apart.

Just the same, Joey was excited about the idea of being part of his future child’s life. He even wanted to be present at the birth. But this would not happen.

Joey was picked up for drunk driving. And it wasn’t his first offense. In fact, it was probably his third or fourth. The judge threw the book at him, and he was sentenced to a year in prison. He could not watch the birth of his son.

He emerged from prison with tattoos on both arms. One tattoo ran from the length of his elbow to his wrist, and read “Budweiser”. A similar tattoo on his other arm read, “King of Beers.”

Before prison he’d been making big money working in construction. But now no one would hire him. You see, Joey was now a convicted felon.

And a reprobate drunk.

Joey’s mother is an alcoholic who encouraged drinking in all of her children from an early age. And his love for his mother led him to take that encouragement to heart. He followed in her footsteps, worshiping the bottle with soul-selling reverence and veneration.

I hired him about a year after his son was born, to help with some construction work at my house. He was a good, hard, skillful worker, and a lot of fun to be around. But he was only reliable after noon.

One day he failed to show up for work. And for the next several days his absence continued. We worked on without him, and worried about what had become of our happy-go-lucky, jocular employee. We were accustomed to him showing up late, but he always showed up eventually.

Then I did some investigating and discovered he’d been picked up for drunk driving yet again.

He spent 16 more months in prison.

Joey got out a bit of a changed man. Not much changed, but a bit. He continued to hit the bottle, but he always had someone else do the driving.

To this day that has been his pattern. He still drinks, and drinks hard. But he always has a designated driver. He wants no more prison time.

My father-in-law befriended Joey. Every Sunday they play pool together. And he gives him little odd jobs to do, for nominal pay. And after Joey got his driver’s license back, he’s even loaned his pickup truck to him.

My father-in-law is very soft-hearted. Or perhaps you may be thinking that he’s soft-headed.

Joey borrowed the pickup truck about a month ago and didn’t return it for two weeks. So my father-in-law has finally decided he will not loan it out again. Or so he says. We’ll see how long that lasts.

We hired Joey again a few weeks back, to help out on a renovation job at my father-in-law’s house. Joey had borrowed several hundred dollars from my ailing mother-in-law just a few days before she died. Her mind had been going, toward the end, and she was vulnerable to moochers.

It wasn’t the money; we just wanted to think better of Joey. So we suggested that the debt would be forgiven if he would give us a day’s work. He gladly accepted this proposition.

And he threw himself completely into the job. His construction knowledge was indispensable, and his energy was that of two men. His work ethic was impeccable. Better than most people I’ve ever worked with, including myself.

He was even sober at 7:00 in the morning, when I picked him up.

Oh yes, that’s another thing. He said his car wasn’t running. So I had to drive over a half-hour to his house to pick him up, at the end of a long, bumpy dirt road in the middle of nowhere. His house, or actually his mother’s house, was surrounded by piles of junk, as well as about a dozen broken-down cars, and a destitute backhoe.

Also on the property was a perfectly good pickup truck that Joey couldn’t drive, because he never had enough money to pay the late-registration fees. All his spare cash went to the bottle.

But like I mentioned earlier, Joey was a good, hard worker. And warm, and fun, and similar to his name–a joy–to be around.

My wife prepared lunch for us, giving us a break in the middle of all the hard labor. I sat down to eat, but not Joey. Where was he? I waited politely for a few minutes, then finally dug in and ate without him.

I had almost finished scraping the bottom of my bowl when Joey came straggling in. “Where were you?” we queried.

“Oh Grandpa had a light out in his bedroom, so I was changing it.” he offered. Joey always called my father-in-law “Grandpa”, because he was the great-grandfather of his son.

The day finished and I drove him back to his mother’s ramshackle home. But he seemed less talkative and friendly than he’d been when I picked him up that morning. I wondered what I might have done to leave him feel offended.

The next day my father-in-law announced that he’d had about $40 worth of rolled coins in his bedroom, and they were now missing. Also, he was missing a hundred dollar bill that he kept in his checkbook.

We quickly recalled Joey’s mysterious disappearance at lunch time. My wife told her father that she thought Joey had stolen it, and that she didn’t trust Joey, and that she thinks Joey takes advantage of him. My father-in-law promised to ask Joey if he took it, and gave us an astonishing character endorsement by asserting that his friend would actually admit it if he was the culprit.

And he told my wife that he wasn’t concerned about being taken advantage of. He said that he never paid Joey fairly, so it all worked out. And he cautioned that life isn’t always about money.

A few days later he and Joey played pool together. That evening he returned from the felt-top games with reassuring news for us. He said he’d asked Joey if he had taken his money, and that he denied it.

He claimed he believed him.

I’m not sure I agree. But I do agree that life isn’t always about money. It’s a mix of trust, forgiveness, compassion, and so many other things that raise the human condition to a spiritual level of comfort and gratification. And so I’ve bitten my tongue and refrained from advising my father-in-law to end his friendship with Joey.

Instead I advised that he find different hiding spots for his money.

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