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A Bag of Humbugs: a true short story

A Bag of Humbugs: a true short story

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Published by tony
To Tom's amazement, his wife leaves an enormous sum of money in her will, but there's nothing for Tom, just more unpleasant surprises
To Tom's amazement, his wife leaves an enormous sum of money in her will, but there's nothing for Tom, just more unpleasant surprises

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Published by: tony on Jun 02, 2011
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06/02/2011

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A Bag of Humbugs
We met Tom one evening in a small hotel overlooking a harbour in Spain. A largeman in his late seventies, he looked rather dispirited as he sat alone in the lounge, sowe invited him to join us for a drink. He was a widower from the north of England,and, after a rather lonely week’s holiday, was only too pleased to chat to anyone. Wediscovered that he was a retired bus driver and that his wife had died some monthsago, so we encouraged him to talk about his family and his home. What he told us leftus dumbfounded.Apart from his late wife, he had a son, and a daughter who was the mother of his twogranddaughters. His wife had died somewhat unexpectedly and, to his astonishment,had left a huge sum of money to be shared between the son and daughter. He didn’tdivulge the actual sum, but, in contrast with his pension and humble lifestyle, it musthave been a small fortune. Each time he mentioned it, he just shook his head slowlyin bewilderment, for it was clear that he hadn’t a clue how the money was obtained,or how she managed to conceal it from him all those years. His late wife’s will alsoincluded a detailed list of belongings which the daughter was to inherit; theseincluded jewellery, accessories, photographs, pictures and some items of furniture.A day after the funeral, his daughter came to the house with her husband and armedwith the list. She demanded to collect what was rightfully hers. It also included a half share in the family caravan and she wanted to know when Tom would be selling it.This was a mobile home which he and his wife owned on a pleasant site overlookingthe sea. Tom loved the caravan and had looked forward to living in it wheneverything was finally sorted out. Her husband, who was a rather charmless man,offered to put it up for sale that day, and, under pressure, Tom reluctantly agreed to itbeing sold. Just then, however, his son called by and pleaded with his sister to be alittle more patient and sympathetic. Eventually, to avoid a family argument, he wrotehis sister a cheque for half the current value of the caravan, and they left looking verypleased with themselves. Throughout the bereavement, Tom’s son had been a pillarof strength, whereas his daughter and her husband were just out for what they couldgrab.
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We asked Tom about his two granddaughters. He said that when they were young,they were good company, but since they became teenagers, he rarely saw much of them. He didn’t feel resentful at being ignored, because that’s the way young peoplewere. At Christmas, the first since his wife died, he decided to give each of them twohundred pounds as a gift. He assumed that this was far more than they wouldnormally receive and that it would be a pleasant surprise. On Christmas Eve, hisdaughter called around briefly and asked if he had the girls’ Christmas money ready.The wording of the request took Tom by surprise but he handed over the twoenvelopes.The daughter counted the notes carefully and then asked ‘Where’s the rest?’‘The rest? It’s a Christmas gift for the girls. I’m sure they’ll find something to spendit on.’‘But our mum used to give them a lot more than this,’ she sulked.‘I don’t understand,’ said Tom, puzzled by her response.‘Mum used to give them five hundred pounds each.’‘Five hundred pounds?’ queried Tom, ‘That’s more than we ever spent at Christmas.We never had that kind of money. I thought that two hundred pounds would be a realtreat for the girls.’The daughter was very disgruntled by the missing money but Tom held his ground. Inhis opinion, two hundred pounds was quite sufficient spending money for youngteenagers. Had they been attending college or university, that would have been adifferent matter. All the time, of course, he kept wondering about the money his wifehad given the girls without his knowing, and wished he could discover where it hadcome from. As his daughter was leaving, she tossed a small brown paper bag onto thedining table.‘That’s a little something from the girls for Christmas.’Alone in the house, Tom opened up the paper bag. There was no accompanyinggreeting card, just a supermarket till receipt and a small bag of striped candy orhumbugs as they are known in England
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Though it wasn’t particularly late, Tom began to look tired, so we wished himgoodnight, but arranged to meet him the next day before he left for home. We had tohear the rest of this story. Later that evening, we sat on our small balcony overlookingthe harbour and tried to make some sense of it all. Though Tom’s relationship withhis wife appeared friendly enough, with no indication of any serious problems, it wasclear that there was no love lost between father and daughter. He admitted that theyhad never got on very well together; her relationship with her mother was better. Of course, we had only heard one side of the argument and wondered what caused sucha rift between them. When he talked about the earlier years, he had given theimpression that he may have been a rather obstinate man who had a need to exertcontrol over people and situations. Dad always knew best.Some years earlier, he’d had a serious heart operation. Though he was not expected tosurvive, to everyone’s surprise, he did. Had he not outlived his younger and healthierwife, he would never have known about the mysterious inheritance. We exchangedsome thoughts about the money. Perhaps it was an inheritance from a distant relative?Perhaps it was a lottery prize? Perhaps she had invested a modest sum which hadflourished and the profits would see her in comfort through her old age? Maybe sheran a secret and highly profitable business on the side? Whatever the source, it lookedas if it would remain a mystery for, according to Tom, neither son nor daughter hadbeen able to shed any light on it.The next day, we met up with Tom in a harbour bar as a gentle warm sea breezedrifted in from the Mediterranean. It was still winter in England, but Tom said he waslooking forward to returning home again. For a while, we shared ideas about theorigin of the inheritance, but it soon became clear that Tom had investigated everypossible lead and had got nowhere. He said that as long as he had enough money toget by, his lovely caravan, and his kind son, he would be quite content with his life. Inconfidence, he told us that he believed that he didn’t have much time left, and wasgoing to ask a solicitor to revise his will as soon as he returned home. In all truth,Tom didn’t look as if he were about to meet his maker, and we probably said asmuch, but he just smiled. Then he insisted on taking our photographs so he couldshow his son the friends he had made while on holiday.We walked back to the hotel with Tom to collect his bags for the coach journey to theairport. While waiting for the coach, he continued discussing his will.‘I haven’t got a lot of money so there won’t be much for anyone to argue over, butI’ve decided to leave most of it to my son because he’s been my rock in a storm.’
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