Memoir of a War Resister—A Novel of the 1960s

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Chapter 47—"Mrs. Brown, You've Got A Lovely Daughter"

Nine weeks down. Ninety-one to go.

I found a registered letter for me on dining room table from Brown and Associates Law Firm in Boston. I put down my books, took off my coat, got a glass of water, sat down at the table and opened the letter. “Our firm represents the estate of Jeffrey Ledford, deceased, August, 1968. We only recently became aware of his death. You are one of the inheritors in his will. Would you please contact our office as soon as possible so we can make arrangements for you to come to Boston for the reading of the will.”

Jeff had been dead for more than two years. Why did they read the will now? Why was I involved? I felt the bile rise in my throat. I thought I’d gotten rid of it all in Boston. I inhaled sharply. Is this some kind of sick joke? I held onto the table and shook my head to get rid of the fuzziness. I went outside and took a brief walk around the house. Then I jogged around the house. I went into the greenhouse and pulled a radish. I grabbed a hoe and started weeding. I paced. I panicked. I couldn’t get clear. Ronda arrived as I was ready to go over the deep edge. I put down the hoe and ran to her.

Inside I showed the letter to Ronda. “Damn son-of-a-bitch,” she said. That was exactly my sentiment. Ronda went to heat water for tea. When the going gets rough, it’s always tea.

“What should I do?” I couldn’t drink the tea. Whatever went down was going to come up. Clear liquids included.

“Call Jake,” she said.

Jake was the closest thing I had to a personal lawyer. “I’ll call as your ‘legal consultant’,” Jake said, after I explained the situation. It sounded impressive.

Jake called back two hours later. “All they could tell me was that they recently found out about Jeff’s death and were making arrangements with those involved in the settlement of the will so they could close his account. Sounds like you might be inheriting something.”

I didn’t want to go to Boston ever again in my whole life. I didn’t want to see Fenway Park. I didn’t want to relive his death or anything surrounding it. I didn’t want to see Linda. I didn’t want to hear how he died or any of that. “I already have his jacket and Catch-22. I don’t want to go.”

“Give them a call,” Jake said. That was the advice from my legal consultant so I promised I would.

“How’s Ginger doing?”

“Not long now.”

“You better call me the second she goes into labor.”

“You can bet on it. We want you here.”

When I called, someone from Brown and Associates said, “We have contacted a Mrs. McKinney and she will be coming in next weekend. Her son, Dennis McKinney, also is an inheritor in the will. He was a friend of Jeffrey Ledford.”

“I know who Dennis is. And his name isn’t Jeffrey. His name is Jeff,” I said more aggressively than I should have. Nothing made sense.

When all was said and done, they paid for the trip, the hotel room, the food and I had a chance for a McKinney hug. Why not? I desperately needed a hug.

The following Friday afternoon I flew to Boston, arriving at Logan Airport at 6:42 p.m. A car waited to take me to the hotel. A McKinney hug and dinner later, I lay in bed wondering why in the world I took this trip. Maybe because I really hadn’t finished my “Jeff life.” I never said goodbye or went to a funeral or a memorial or said some prayers or sang some songs after he died. I got stoned, depressed and crazy. Maybe, in some strange way, now I had my chance to tell him goodbye.

A car picked us up at the hotel in the morning and drove us to the law offices of Brown and Associates. Someone escorted us to a room where we found a pot of coffee and a pitcher of water sitting on the table. “Help yourself,” he said.

“Mama McKinney, would you like a cup of coffee?” I poured myself a cup and added too much sugar to it. I probably wouldn’t drink it. “Or water?”

“Water, please. Thank you.”

Ten minutes later someone came in. He didn’t introduce himself.

He started. I stopped him. “Who are you?”

“I’m so sorry. I am Attorney Walter Brown. I represented the Ledford family for many years. I am so sorry for your loss.”

What loss? Jeff died two years ago. What did Mr. Brown know about my loss? Why is he bringing up my loss? My loss had been lost a long time ago and I didn’t need it to be found. So be quiet about my loss. Quit pretending you care. I couldn’t focus.

Mr. Brown looked weird. I think he was supposed to be bald but it looked like he had some kind of hairpiece. I wondered if he had any kids and what they looked like. Maybe Mr. and Mrs. Brown had a lovely daughter, like that Herman’s Hermit song. I liked the Herman’s Hermit. They were kind of cute. I bet they have cute daughters. No way that Mr. Brown could have a lovely daughter. His brow was too furrowed. His ears were too low on his head. Focus, Becky, Focus.

Mr. Brown continued. “Jeffrey Ledford had no close living relatives after his parents died. The week before he died, he came to our office with a will written on a scrap of paper. We typed up the formal will and contacted him to come in and sign the papers. We never heard from him again.”

“Are you telling me that you didn’t hear from him so you dropped it? You didn’t take the time to find out where he was? You let it slide for two years? What kind of law firm are you?”

“I do apologize, Miss Jamison. We only recently became aware of his death. He dated and signed his name to the scrap of paper so it was determined to be a legal document. We would like to share that with you today.” Attorney Brown shuffled some papers in his hands.

“So, let me see if I heard you correctly, Mr. Brown. Jeff came in with a will. You typed it up and two years later you learned he died. Two years?”

“Miss Jamison. Again, I apologize.” He saw my tears.

“I don’t want your apology.” I stood up. “Where’s the bathroom please? I need a minute.” I held onto the sink, the only thing holding me up. I splashed water on my face, drank some from my hand. I looked at myself in the mirror. Thank god, I looked sane. It looked like me. I could do this.

When I returned to the conference room, I apologized to Mama McKinney and sat down.

Mr. Brown began again, reading from the will. “As the sole inheritor of the estate of my parents, I would like to make known my wishes in the event of my death. This document is to be considered legal and valid.” The letter impressed me. I had no idea Jeff could speak legalese. Since he knew he was going to die soon, I was doubly impressed.

Mr. Brown read the specifics of the will. “The following organizations are to be given twenty-five percent of my estate divided evenly among each of them.” The lawyer read off a list of organizations. He read so quickly I couldn’t quite follow. The only names I caught were Lake Forest College, Northeastern University, the National Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam. “Those organizations have been contacted concerning this inheritance.” Why did that matter to me?

“To my friend, Dennis McKinney. While living across the hall from you at Lake Forest you became my best friend. Thanks for being my sounding board, my support and for keeping my secret.”

Hook was loyal to a fault. If he made a promise, he kept it. I forgave Hook for keeping that secret. He forgave me for writing my pro-Vietnam essay in Senior English class. Maybe things would have been different if he told me. Listen, Becky. Focus.

“To Dennis, I bequeath twenty-five percent of my estate.” Attorney Brown looked at Mama McKinney. “In our investigation, we discovered, of course, that Dennis McKinney is also deceased and we brought you here as next of kin.” He handed Mama a certified check for $369,097.19. She looked at the check, looked at the man, looked at me and clutched the check to her chest. Tears rolled down her cheeks. She would never have to worry or struggle again. I hugged her as she whispered to me, “I wish I had known him.” We dried our tears.

“Finally, to the light of my life, Becky Jamison. You are the best thing that ever happened to me. Please believe me when I say I loved you with every fiber of my being.” He said that in the green neon note. “I bequeath the remaining fifty percent of my estate to you. I want you to live joyously and without regret.” That was it, that was the end. The lawyer handed me a check for $738,194.38.

I sat in stunned silence looking at the check. “That damn bastard son-of-a-bitch. Not only did he die, but he will never let me forget about it,” I said to no one in particular. I put the check in the inside pocket of the brown leather jacket.

I flew back to Chicago, spent the night at the airport hotel, arrangements made by the law firm of Brown and Associates. The next day I got my car out of parking and drove to the prison to see Marty. I pulled out the check and put it on the table in front of him. “What are you going to do with that?” he asked.

“Buy your way out of prison.”

“It doesn’t work like that.”

“It should.” I folded the check neatly and put it back in my jacket pocket. I knew I couldn’t buy his way out. But it would have been nice. Marty leaned across the table and kissed me. Alex smiled. The check went in the bank.

U.S. Soldier Body Count: 53,956

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