Not Living on Sponge Cake Alone
This public viewing today was so much different from the private one last night. Then, it was I, my Mom and the lawyer. We were the only ones from the family that wanted to be bothered. Me, I loved Grandma. She, of everybody, almost raised me, yep; Mom and Dad taught me everything there was ever to know about fighting, bickering and backstabbing. Grandma was always there for me though, made me feel safe and gave me a ‘kick in the rear’ when I needed it. God, I am going to miss her, so much.
Her death left me like a rudderless boat, lost at sea, and just floating on the waves. It was a good analogy, the one thing I learned to be good at was how to sail, navigate and show respect for the sea. It was so vast and so unpredictable that if you did not ‘give in’ to it you would be dead.
That was one of Grandma’s great loves, the sea and her ships and boats. She had several of them but the two favourites were the ‘Sea Witch’, a 43 Meter ANGUS-SWIFTS HIP (Power Boat with 4 Suites aboard); and her first love, and mine too was the 150’ Barquentin, ‘Wanderer’ (Sail Boat that needs a crew of 4-6 usually), not only was it larger, more space aboard for living (9 Suites), but it gave one the feeling that you were back in a time long since lost to the ‘rat race’ we now lived in. Both ships as well as several smaller ones, one of which she taught me to fish in, were docked or stored at her home on Fisher Island, in Florida.
Did I say I was going to really, really miss her?
John David Jonas was her lawyer about forever, at least since I could remember. He was also her friend. I remember another man that came in that night, well nearly came in. He stood in the doorway but never actually came in. I did not recognize him, but you could see the tears in his eyes. Hell, what did I know, I was just an 18-year old kid to everybody except Grandma, and now she was gone. That lost ship at sea expression could better be the description of my future life now as the reality of her death sunk in.
Mr. Jonas did not say much to me. When it was time to leave, I helped Mom to the car and started to go to mine. Dad had never showed. No big surprise, not only were he and Mom always fighting, but Grandma hated him and he felt the same about her. I had a nice long talk with Grandma before she passed and she had told me many things, some things I really did not need to or even want to know.
Mr. Jonas took me by the arm as we walked to my car. He said to me. “Steve, ‘Get you ass in gear! You will soon have a lot to do!’ quote from your Grandmother. I need you to sign some papers, cover some things your Grandmother wanted done before she died and I need to read you her will. Is 10:00 am tomorrow OK with you. We will need less than two hours?”
“Fine Mr. Jonas. Do you want Mom and Dad there too, I don’t know if...”
“Just you son is fine. Here, I have a letter for you that explains most of what we need to do and what each thing I will ask you to sign is and why. Everything has been discussed with your Grandmother beforehand and everything I will give you to sign she had already approved.”
I was barely 18 and had not decided if I would be going to college or go to work for Grandmother like the way she wanted. Now that she was gone, that decision would be simple, if I could afford it, since I planned to move out on my own. I would probably go to school at University of Southern Florida or University of Miami. I was not a great student but I shared my Grandmother’s love and respect for the sea. Hell, I was almost raised on it since I was six. From the two bad storms, when I was younger (Almost 10 years ago), I had learned that the sea ruled, not man. It would be a tribute maybe to Grandmother that she and I would agree on. We both loved the open water.
I still lived in the same house my Mother and Father did. I refused to call it home though and would soon be out of there. Home, if I could call anywhere home was either one of Grandmother’s ships or even her place. I would apply to both schools shortly and maybe rent a place near where I would be going or check out the costs for the dorm. High school would be over in few weeks and it was a little late to apply for college but I was in no real rush. I did want to move out near which college I would eventually be going. When she was still alive, I stayed with Grandmother at her home. It was not something I did when she had died. It did not seem right to do without her.
When I got to their house, I heard the sounds from my Mother and Father arguing. This was not new, nor unexpected. You would think on a night like this they both would show some respect. Then I remembered once more that this had become a daily occurrence.
I listened a bit to their conversation before turning to go to my room; that is until I heard my Father ask Mom, “So was the lawyer there?”
“Yes” my Mom answered.
“So what did he say? How much did the ‘Old Battleaxe’ leave us? What was in the will? When will we get it?”
“He said nothing; Jim other than there would be a trust for us!”
She had not even rested in her grave and they were already fighting over what Grandmother had willed to them! ‘Man, what a class act they were’.
I went to my room and finally got to sleep, thinking about all the good times we had, Grandmother and me that is.
I ate some cereal in the kitchen to the staccato of Mother and Father still arguing. I thought I would get a summer job and move out ASAP even before I knew which school I would go. I went to see Mr. Jonas even though it was still early. I did not want to stay here any more than I had too. I parked in the lot next to his office; it was just after 9:00 am so I expected to wait. I had taken off from school, explaining the funeral later that day and had worn a sport coat and tie since I intended to go right to the funeral after seeing Mr. Jonas.
He was on the third floor. I took the stairs. It was easy to find the office. There was a large plaque by the door, Jonas, Smythe and Langtree, Attorney at Law. I went in and asked the receptionist for Mr. Jonas, giving her my name and telling her I was early for a 10:00 am appointment. She indicated for me to have a seat that she would inform Mr. Jonas that I was here. She called and spoke to someone, then smiled at me and said, “I was sorry to hear about your Grandmother, my sympathy. Mr. Jonas will be right out to see you. Could I offer you something to drink?”
“Water would be great. I am not taking this very well. Mr. Jonas said I had some things to sign, do you think I can just do that with you now, I don’t really need to see him, do I?”
“Yes you do Steve; you really do need to see me. I’ll take him in Marsha, make that a couple of waters if you would I think our lad will need them.”
We walked into a very nice office.
“Have a seat Steve. Did you read the letter I gave you last night?”
“Ugh! I was going too, but when I got to the house Mom and Dad were, as usual arguing. This time about how much money, Grandmother had left them. Damn Mr. Jonas, she is not even buried yet and all they seem to care about is how much money she left them. I will not even call their house my home. As far as I am concerned Grandmother’s place was my home, or on her ships. Hell she was more a Mother to me than my own was. I am just getting so sad Mr. Jonas, can I just sign what you need or come back some other time? I really miss her!”
“We all do Steve! She was special, very special. Since you are now 18 I can skip over some of the provisions in her will, if you don’t mind?”
“No, I don’t even think I’m in any will. That’s why I asked if you wanted my Mom and Dad here instead of me?”
“Actually Steve, you are the only beneficiary in her will. The bulk of her estate that does not directly pass to you is in a non-revocable trust. In that trust you are named executor as long as you were 18 or older, which you are. The papers I am asking you to sign are your formal acceptance of those terms and roles. Briefly, I had our tax consultants revise everything to provide your bequest the best tax advantages as soon as you turned 18 and reviewed everything with Mary before she passed away. You said you had always thought of her place as your home, so did she and it and all its contents, grounds and amenities are all yours. The large ships are owned by the trust so there is no tax due on them, nor on iinvestments and non-profit cash in the trust until they are sold or you or your estate no longer exist. So you may think of marriage and a family someday soon. I would like to be around for that. Mary might be a good name when you have a daughter! The company or I should say all the stock for it, therefore the ownership has been left directly to you, not in the trust, along with $90 Million after inheritance taxes.
The role as trust executor provides you $5 Million a year and all expenses you approve, so crews and the ship’s expenses are covered by it. Your Mom receives $1 Million a year and you Dad, $1 Dollar a year for the rest of their lives from another trust fund. You get the reserves from that when they die. A fitting thing since you Grandmother hated him. Overall, to summarize you get $95 Million now, all the stock in her company and are the executor of both trusts. You may as both executor and sole beneficiary elect to take any part or all of the main trust at any time or leave it to your estate at your death. Currently that trust is valued at $2.547 Billion and invested by a fund manager. The last three years it has grown about 11% after taxes are paid. Mary’s Company stock left to you directly is worth appox. $433 Million. The house, docks, smaller boats, cars and property left to you are approx. $87 Million more.
Overall, you are a very wealthy young man. I have some videos for you to watch; two detail the trust and the will specifics, one is from me with a few suggestions for you, one deals with the company and what is in place currently. I have taken the liberty to schedule a Board meeting and placed your name as the new member as well as indicating your role as new owner. There is another video or two from Mary for you when you are alone. As the worth of the trust and inheritance is considerable, one set of papers names the firm as interim legal counsel to the trusts, another as your personal legal firm as an individual and another for the company itself. Sign them and please give me four $1’s. You can change us out at any time I just want you pprotected immediately. I will assume some people may not be happy how the will reads, but do not worry. Any that contest or challenge it will be excluded from any bequest, win or lose.
I have a copy of the will for you, the trust documents on paper as well as DVD and will act as your agent with any death certificates needed.
You immediately get the $95 Million and the home, cars, land and a few more things are being transferred to you, here is a letter from me regarding all of that should you need it. The staff at the home as well as the Company Board has all been informed. If you do not get the co-operation from them just call us night or day, here are the numbers. Again, my suggestions are on a DVD and my sympathy to you for your loss, Mary, as I said before was a special woman and my friend.”
I took the package and signed all the forms, taking my copies. He had a briefcase for me and I put everything in that. “Mr. Mr. Jonas, I don’t know what to say or to do. Can anybody help me the next few days to get through all this. I’m lost?”
“Miss Jonas would you come in please. Steve, Mary Jonas will see you at the house every morning for a while. Tell her what you need; how she can help and trust her as you do me, she is my daughter. As you might guess, she was named after your Grandmother too. She was very special to me; we grew up together since she was very young and knew each other more than 60 years. My daughter will help you through this. I suggest you go to ‘your’ new home’, I don’t think the reception at your old house will be what you need right now.”
As Mary came in, we were introduced.
“Mary take my car, and take Steve to his home. I will have his car dropped off later. Stop first at the bank with him and see Mr. Carson, he has some forms and papers for Steve to sign as well as a checking, savings, debit and credit card already set up for him. And Mary, it is not nice to take advantage of a client, so be nice!”
“I can be very nice, Daddy. C’mon Stevie, let’s blow this popsicle stand and see your new home.”
As they left, John Jonas thought she was the upbeat spark in his life Steve now needed, which is why he had asked her to help. Upon reflection, he hoped neither of them would take this into any kind of relationship. Mary indeed had been special to him, as both Steve and his daughter were also.
The trip to the bank was painless. Mr. Carson saw them right away, had everything ready as well as an envelope containing $150,000 after having him sign a withdrawal chit. “Your legal here now and all the accounts are active. According to Mr. Jonas, the security codes as well as combinations to the safe in the house and ships are in these safe deposit boxes and on the DVD from Mary. Here are keys to several deposit boxes and I have had you sign the new signature cards for them already, Mary’s keys are in the safe at home. I told you nothing but a birdie named Mary told me her jewelry is in one and some rare coins in another. She loved you very much Steve, and all of us will miss her very much. I will be at the burial. Take care of him Mary.”
“I will Uncle Dan, or Daddy will tan my hide.”
The gate guard had already been informed of whom I was and that I was the new owner. We drove up to the house. He must have called ahead since the staff, including the daytime and night shift people, were waiting. I had spent much of my life there and none was a surprise. Mary thoughtfully introduced herself and said, un-necessarily. “There are no changes to the staff. Several guards will be here later and all of you will be provided transportation to and from the funeral for Mary. We all will miss her. Mary had wanted me to give you each this envelope ($50,000) as her gift for all you have done for her and hoped you would continue everything for her Grandson, Steve.”
I had wondered about that. Mary told me later that all had been done before Grandmother had passed and she was doing it for her only as a friend. I asked Mary if she wanted a room, joking that maybe we could find one or two spare. That one thing I could not do right away though is go through Grandmother’s things or room. She said she understood. She would ask her Dad about using a room or not. I did not think how it might look or what other people might say. I did not even care. It was so nice to have someone like Mary around while I adjusted some. We were served lunch. I was beat. Dead on my feet. I had a brief glimpse now of why I needed Mary as she told me to, “Get your ass in gear, we had still to make a visit to the company before the funeral.” It was something I might have expected my Grandmother to say.
“Jawhol, Herr General!” I answered and laughed a bit. It was the boost I needed. On the way, thoughts of facing my Mother and Father raced through my mind. We got to the Company, parked in the spot Grandmother had used and I noticed my name had already replaced hers. It seemed my role was not to be a surprise. We went in. It was not a wonderful reception. Neither of us had a badge and was told to go to the security desk. The ‘Numbnutz’ there said there was nothing there with our names on it and suggested we call ahead next time for someone to escort us in.
He sat down. We waited. I looked at Mary and shook my head and shoulders. She looked at me, raised her eyebrows, and took out a cell phone from that ‘survival’ pack women call a purse. “Daddy, we have a little problem at the company. We can’t get in; can you call ‘Mission Control’? Thank you Daddy.”
She looked at her watch and started counting the seconds. At 103 a woman rushed to us, spouting apology after apology as she nearly dragged us to the lift door. The guard started sputtering only to be silenced by the look she gave him. He would not be here long, I was certain.
The woman was escorting us right to the Board Room. I stopped her and said we would like to go to my Grandmothers office first.
She started to say that ‘all the Board was waiting and... ‘ Mary, bless her heart for being there, took out her cell again, called Daddy and explained the ‘problem’, asking for a new guide, this time one who understood English as spoken by the owner of the company. She fluttered her hand to the soon to be night cleaner or a former employee.
Someone soon joined us. “I’m Jennifer, Mr. Seymour’s assistant. I am so sorry about your reception here. That woman is worthless, but she was just doing what her boss told her to do. Your taking over has upset a few people who think of this as their personal fiefdom. Mrs. Water’s death and Mr. Simon taking over has them scrambling for position. I am sorry”
“What, you’re not upset about the change?” I asked.
“Hell no, neither is Mr. Seymour, he is acting CEO. He has been trying to hold this place together since Mrs. Water’s became ill. I am his daughter. He just wanted to try to make Mr. Simon’s transition easier, when you take the reins then we both are going on a long holiday, a cruise maybe. Let me take you to Mary’s office. When you’re ready, I’ll take to the lion’s den; let them wait a little until then.”
“Jennifer, I like you. If your dad is like you, you both may not want to take too long a Holiday. I think I need you two around here. I know Nada, well almost; Grandmother wanted me to work here, now...”
“What Steve means is thanks for playing watchdog. It could not have been easy when they thought there was the scent of blood in the air. I’m Mary too; this is Steve, who will be wearing the ‘White’ hats today?”
Jennifer filled us in when we got to the office. Since the meeting had already been set up, the first order of business was to call for a vote and elect me to the board. My first official act was to tell everyone thank you for their service and ask for the resignation of four existing Board members; asking two to please remain, including Mr. Seymour.
I had Jennifer stay also.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, HELP! I know very little about this company, what I do sense though is that not everyone is happy I am here. I have some good news and bad news. Mr. Seymour, I hope any Holiday you planned to take is a very short one. You need to fix a few problems, hire and fire a few people and recommend the new Board members replacing those who just resigned. If you have not guessed, I do not plan to do any changes, you will. I need time to learn about this company. I may be young but I am not a fool; at least not a big fool. Please continue to run this company as you have been. We will need to discuss any big items but unless something comes up, if Grandmother trusted you, so do I. By the way, thank you for coming to see her last night. I appreciate you being there. If you and your daughter would join Mary and myself for dinner after today’s funeral ceremony I would like to discuss basic things like how we might get into the building someday.”
“Get in! Why they have all conspired how to keep you out? Seriously though. We do need to talk, the politics here and rumors since Mary became ill has made this place a madhouse. A place that was closing, being sold or handed off to any number of the Executives to run. A real madhouse.”
“Well, since my Grandmother owned it, now me, I have no intention to have anyone run it but you, unless maybe there is some rich young heiress roaming around who wants a Chemical company and sweet talks me into something. Joke. Your in-charge Sir. Are we profitable and do we pay you enough to stay on?”
“Ha, never enough if you listen to my daughter. Yes, we make a few pennies now and then, that is why some folks want to run it. I just came on to help when Mary took ill. I do not need this, so let us talk. Jen might even be convinced to stay on?”
I mentioned to Mary that it might not be the best idea to let Mom or Dad enter the Company or my home. She told me she had already made certain of that.
Grandmother’s funeral/burial was a mixed blessing. She was finally at peace, which I was grateful for, but at the same time, I pretty much lost my Mother and Father there too. The very first thing Dad said to me was about being denied access to her house, that they only wanted to get her jewels and things out before they sold the house.
My new alter ego (My Mary) now spoke up. “I don’t believe Steve plans on selling his home, Mr. and Mrs. Simon; if he does I’m certain he will let you buy first whatever he wishes to sell.” When my dad started screaming at me then raised his fist to slap me, several things happened. Two men grabbed him and pulled him away while another stood in front of me. I saw Mr. Jonas just laughing so hard I felt he was going into convulsions. Mary pulled out two folded papers, one for each of them. “I am an officer of the court; consider that you both have been served.”
They were court orders to maintain an assured, safe distance from me.
When we left, she said, “Since you have your banking, DL and Soc things Daddy can get copies of anything else for you. He already got all your personal effects from your Mom earlier when she was informed of her money. Your Dad was another story, he called you some names I am not sure is physically possible to do, but hey, to each his own, I guess. If we need, we can always go shopping and buy some things, I can loan you some money if you want, poor boy.”
We joined Mr. Seymour and Jennifer after the service. Mary handed them a card with all the addresses and numbers on it. Ms. Jonas said, “Mary left you the Country Club shares in the will. You automatically are a member now. I called and got us a private room.”
Not sure what exactly ‘Us and We’ meant, but I am easy, especially now with her around. In my wildest dream, I could have never found anyone better than her. I had to tell that to Mr. Jonas. Maybe I should tell him that I was keeping her and trade him some goats, horses and camels. Not sure if he smoked though.
Dinner was not bad. What became the highlight of the evening though was sitting back, enjoying our coffee and all of us men watching and listening to Mary and Jennifer debate what should happen to the Company. Mr. Seymour and I never discussed a word of business. We did not have too. We now both had alter egos doing those things for us. It was too funny. After we both were laughing aloud, both girls stopped the discourse, looked at us and we heard, in stereo, “What”?
We just looked at each other and doubled over laughing. If you can imagine what two wet hens looked like, that might approach Mary and Jennifer’s faces now and the looks they gave us. I do not think words were necessary between Mr. Seymour and me.
Something about the situation just clicked, like being on the same sheet of music in an orchestra, playing the same song.
We shook hands and nodded to each other when we left the Club. Both girls now expanded their vocabulary. “What happened?” seemed to come from both of them as we got into our cars.
“Well, dear, are we ready to go home now or have you made more busy work for me? Engage the ship Ms. Jonas, take us home.”
She let most of that go by. What she did say was... “Yes and no. I’ll take you home, but you need to make two more stops when ‘we’ get home.”
You may not have noticed but she said we and home. My thoughts were becoming very pleasant during the ride.
“Did you decide which room you want? I might suggest one for you.”
She started to blush and did not answer.
“We need (that we again, OK I thought) to see both ship’s crews and tell them we (that we again) are keeping things pretty much the same.”
We drove to first one dock then the other confirming exactly what she had said. We drove up to the house doorway; she stopped but kept the car running. “I need to get the car back to Daddy.” I saw some tears in her eyes. I nodded, and said thank you so much for everything she had done.
The next morning, no Mary but Mr. Jonas called saying there were a few changes in the works and could I come into the office in the next few days. My Dad was upset with the will and it would take a day or two for Mr. Jonas to ‘straighten’ everything out. To just relax and stay home for bit. No mention of Mary though. He did tell me that there were several cars on the estate and he was arranging title and registration change to them for me. By the next day, I could start using them. There were several smaller boats (less than 100 foot is a boat) besides the two large ships. He said all were available now for my use. One I knew needed new props and some steering fluids.
I guess today was as good a day as any to start on that chore. I looked on the Internet and found a Marina and Boatyard that had what I needed. It was in Lauderdale, at the Bahia Mar Marina and just up the IC (Inter Coastal Waterway) not far from where the house was and often went there before for parts.
I took the Grady-White Express 370, it was triple engine and already in the water. My license was always active for it and I used the Marine RF to reserve a dock space for when I arrived there.
It was normally not a life-changing event, but that day, the week actually did end up changing my life some.