My uncle inherited over three hundred acres of land from my great aunt when she passed on. It was a couple decades ago, and he'd done nothing with the property.
Neither of us were getting any younger and I'd lusted after a wooded corner of Great Aunt Ruth's property for over fifty years.
I made an appointment to see 'cousin' Jim out at his house. He lived in the only fenced and guarded subdivision in Aurora. I had on a new suit, and had rented a respectable car for the event. It was a warm day, near the middle of July.
After the pleasantries had concluded I brought up the reason for my visit. "To put it baldly, I've come a-begging. I don't have too many years left on the chassis, and I've been enamored with Camp Jay since I camped there regularly as a child, even though it had closed down as a boy scout camp almost a decade before I was born. I'm here hoping that you will grant me the privilege of using the property for recreational use, along with the two acres immediately downstream that holds a fresh-water spring."
He sighed and sat back in his recliner, considering his options and liabilities.
"I've no objection to your request, but my insurance agent would climb the walls and my payments would skyrocket." He sat there, pensively thinking with his hands in a prayerful position beneath his lips and nose. "I've been holding on to that property as an investment for ages and I doubt that I'll ever recover any value from it before I pass on. It truly galls me to see such wonderful land laying fallow. I'm going to deed you the property you want as a gift, along with an annuity to pay for its insurance, tax payments and upkeep. Ever since I've sold Plano Molding my accountants have been nearly attacking me to get me to divest or invest most of my capital before the government taxes it all away."
He gave me a wry grin. "It's your Christmas present, cousin. I'll set you up with an annuity that will provide you with three hundred and fifty thousand dollars a year. Roughly forty eight percent of that will go to capital gains taxes while the rest will be yours to do with as you please." He looked quite pleased with himself.
"Good God, man! That's--that's beyond generous! Is there anything I can do for you?"
He shook his head 'no' and patted my hand. "Ever since your dad Jerry and you came out and played frisbee in the rain to get away from our stuffy old back-biting, I've admired and envied you. You've done your best with what you had, despite your gimped-up leg and never being married. Think of this as a little snap of my fingers at the dried-up old businessmen that I've had to deal with over the years. Enjoy it in my memory, son. My lawyers will send you something this next week to firm things up."
He shook my hand and ushered me out the door, grinning madly all the while.
I couldn't sleep that night, wondering if it was all some sort of twisted joke on his part.
I was quite surprised on Tuesday morning to get a phone call at work from a Chicago lawyer. We talked for a bit to nail down some of my particulars, then he hung up. Could it be real? Could it be true?
The next Monday I got a call from my post office that I had to come and sign for a package. Things just got real.
Within the package was a property deed for thirty seven unimproved acres, a folder describing and the contract for an annuity which named me as its recipient as well as a check for $400,000.00, all accompanied by a letter.
"Cousin Howard; It tickles me to include a healthy check to get the ball rolling for you. I'm sure that you're beyond anxious to get started on your renovations. Remember, reserve enough for the tax man.
I must have presented quite a sight, shaking and crying in the post office as I read and re-read his letter. I gradually pulled myself together and made my way out to my jeep. After a deep breath I asked myself what I had to do first. It was simple. I had to get that check deposited. Rather than drop the bomb on my local branch, I drove downtown to the main Harris Bank facility. They might not be national in scope but they haven't been in the news shedding light on their peccadilloes at any time in the past ten years that I could determine.
The teller took one look at my check and immediately kicked it upstairs. The head teller shook his head and called the branch manager. An older fellow came out from the recesses of wherever they keep their old-school employees to see what was so urgent that the staff interrupted his schedule. I suppose that I made his day. Someone was sent out for sandwiches from a local shop while I was ushered into a conference room.
George, the president, was curious. "Not that we don't appreciate your business, but why us? We have no record of your dealing with us before."
"It's simple. You lack a bad reputation. U.S. Bank, Citibank and all the other big boys have gotten caught recently playing naughty games. To me, this implies a culture within those institutions that winks at anything that will increase their bottom lines. I prefer to deal with a more conservative bank, which plays within the rules."
A small investment team introduced themselves, then we broke for a short lunch. I described what I was about, and brought out my other paperwork. The annuity was modified to direct deposit into an account. Jim had meant what he said about a Christmas present--the annuity paid off every December 25th. Reserve accounts were implemented to protect me from myself, setting aside that which I owed to Caesar. I recieved a debit card and an auto-carbon checkbook after which I was out the door.
Next, the property deed had to be registered. One stop at the court house completed that task. To set my expectations I presented my deed at the couty assessor's office to find out what my yearly liability would be. Thirty seven acres of unimproved land in Kendall County wasn't exactly a cash cow for them. Still, it would cost eleven hundred an acre per year at the current assessed value. I then realized why he gave me the annuity. Without it I'd never be able to afford the taxes.
I decided to use a portion of my windfall to upgrade my lifestyle. The first to go was my credit card balance. The Citibank vampires were destroyed by the light of a new day. Next I paid a visit to a local Dodge dealership that had an inventory of work trucks. I drove out of there with a new crew-cab 3500 pickup with an eight foot bed. I knew that it would be a nightmare to park in-town, but I accepted that with open eyes. After surveying all the stuff that I'd transferred from the Jeep and stuffed into the truck's bed I immediately headed for a place that would install a fold-up locking tonneau cover over the back. A home building store sold me several big plastic storage containers that would fit under the bed cover. It took me a couple hours to classify and pack away all the stuff that had accumulated in that old jeep over the twelve years that I'd owned it. I made sure to get the truck insured before the end of the day.
After a leisurely cup of tea, the next morning saw me handing over my cell phone, ID badge and keys. At fifty-seven I was officially retired. I spent the rest of the day emmeshed in a paperwork nightmare. I had to stop in the middle of it both to have lunch and to sign up for a postal delivery box, necessary to complete all the paperwork. Medicare. What a lousy introduction to the rest of your life. I signed up for a cheap cell phone that would not tether me to my email. I was finished with that lifestyle.
I had no idea how to find a contractor to get the ball rolling out at the property. The blacktop at the west edge had a ditch deep and wide enough to swallow a station wagon. That had to be spanned in a way that the county road commission would approve of. The property had to be fenced off and posted and the old gravel roadbed (abandoned and overgrown for over sixty years) had to be cleared, dug out and re-gravelled down to the old parking lot some sixty feet below. The ground shelved off in three broad plateaus descending west to east, formed when the melt-water from the midwestern glaciers sought lower ground. The creek which formed the eastern border of the property had a limestone and mud bed. It held cold water due to many local springs, one of which was close to the southern edge of the property where it fed into the stream.
Except for the southernmost strip of land which remained cleared out by grazing cattle the place was overgrown with poisonous bitter-sweet, poison ivy and poison oak. The understory was impassable due to an overly-healthy infestation of blackberry canes.
I found a contractor by the simple expedient of looking at the advertising on the doors of the trucks being used on various jobs in the area. The better contractors would get business while the cheats and snivelers wouldn't.
Thompson General Contractors received a phone call. I arranged to meet one of their people the next day where Sears Road met Rock Creek Road. I warned him about the nasty undergrowth. He brought along an industrial gas-powered weed whacker that had a cutting disk at the business end rather than cord.
.... There is more of this story ...