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My Father's Will

As it, at the time, caused some disagreement, I suppose I should give you the story of my father's will; if for no other purpose, just to supply you with the facts, in case someone, not so well equipped, should say something about it. To give the story clearly calls for just a little recapitulation but I will strive to be brief.

After our step-mother's death, Father turned his thoughts to the distribution of his estate. As related elsewhere, he had already done what he felt was a little more than justice for my brother Robert, so he made a very simple will, embodying the following provisions, which I do not attempt to express in their exact phraseology.

Robert to receive $20,000 in cash.

The Chattanooga house to Henry and me but Henry to have the right to use and occupy, so long as he lived there.

The remainder to Henry and me equally.

For a number of years, Father kept $20,000 in a savings bank, ready for Bob. After the latter's death, he took it out and invested it in the real estate bonds of the F.H. Smith co., Washington, D.C. When the depression came, these bonds became practically worthless and, at the same time, much of his fortune, invested in local Chattanooga enterprises, was depressed in value to such extent that Henry suggested to Father the advisability of changing his will some, lest Frank Robert (Bob's boy) should get the entire estate. Father saw the point and immediately went down town and changed the first provision to read:

The heirs of Robert to receive $20,000 in bonds or Stocks, same to be selected by the executor (Henry).

An instant's thought will show you that the provision, to all extent and purposes, was unchanged. As to why my father, a far-sighted business man, should have done such a foolish thing as to neglect to say "face or par value of stocks or bonds", or words to that effect, needs explanation. Bear in mind two things; first and of minor importance, Father was nearly ninety and his brain, while alert for his age, was possibly not up to its former capability for clear thinking; second and more important, Father was developed before the days of no par value stocks, etc. and he never thought of his stock holdings as so many shares of Cavalier Corp. Preferred; he always spoke and thought of owning $20,000 of Cavalier Preferred.

When I was in Chattanooga, in January 1934, Henry told me of the change Father had made in his will and we were, of course, abundantly satisfied, although neither one of us had seen the will, both feeling some delicacy about even mentioning it to Father. After Father's death, Henry and I went down to the Trust Co. and examined the will. The instant I glanced at it, I said: "Henry, we're sunk; we still have to pay Frank Robert $20,000 in Cash or its equivalent. Where is the money coming from?" Henry saw the point, the same as I, and so the matter rested until that summer, when the U.S. Fleet came to New York and Frank Robert came along, his new (and more or less secret) bride, Peggie, arriving at the same time.

I took an early opportunity to explain things to Frank and Peggie, telling them that Henry and I were perfectly willing to give them a fair cross-section of the estate, up to a face or par value of $20,000 but that we did not propose to let him get away with smelting $20,000 in cash out of the estate, at the then terribly depressed prices of securities, and we to take what, if anything, was left. Peggy saw the idea immediately and put her O.K. on the offer. Frank, a little to my surprise, seemed satisfied. I was glad for them to accept what Henry and I felt was a fair offer and so it was left, Frank agreeing to send formal acceptance to Henry right away.

Our serenity lasted until Frank got back to California and saw his mother (Alma); then we began to get inquiries: "What became of the $20,000 Grandfather had in the savings bank, etc." The letter from his lawyer, wanting all information and then some. You see, Alma always thought that Father was rolling in wealth (who could blame her, the way he helped Bob out) and, although she and Bob had been divorced for years, as soon as Bob died, she proceeded to ignore the separation and - by her actions, at least - re-elected herself as Bob's widow and my father's daughter-in-law. She just wasn't going to let those wicked uncles beat her boy out of his fortune, not if she knew herself. Between Frank and me, a slight unpleasantness arose over it; probably I wrote him with more caustic than diplomacy, I do not recall. I had not been particularly pleased over the way they acted in regard to the baby, that was born in New York, after the fleet sailed; they not seeing fit to say anything to us about it and I finding it out quite by accident. Right here I wish to record that Peggy, all along, behaved like a good hearted, square shooting girl and I have no criticism to register in regard to anything she ever said to me, or anything she ever did, barring the simple fact that she did not let me know when she went to the hospital to have her baby.

So the matter rocked along for a few weeks, until finally Henry and I offered to disregard all of the provisions of the will, except the one giving Henry the life-tenure of the house, and cut the rest of the estate into three parts, each taking his third. This was accepted - I think Alma must have expected it to run into real money (sorry to disappoint her) - and so the estate was settled. I have never heard from either Frank or Peggy since they left New York in the fall of 1934, although she writes to Henry now and then, to keep him posted as to the important events in their lives.

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