I'm not a devout catholic. Mother used to punish me by coming to visit my dormitory back in college daily leaving my roommate cards for him to convince me to go to the ten o'clock masses at night. Religion in college was the last thing that was on my mind. I had my bachelors to work at then. I was majoring in civil engineering and two months after my mother stopped sending cards, I graduated with a B.A. in Civil with a focus on concrete structures. After that, she stopped communication altogether. I made several attempts to contact her, but each time, I had failed to reach her.
One day, a wax sealed envelope was carelessly crumpled into my small aluminum apartment mailbox. It had the crest of my mother's family and the heavy parchment felt almost like gold in my hands. Breaking the seal, I carefully examined the letter. An uncle of mine died. No matter, he wasn't that close at all. But a card fell out and it caught my attention.
Master Dwight Mulholland Joyce-Roosevelt
Your Presence is requested at the
Greer Family Morturary
Your recent deceased relative:
Rutherford Bernard Regent Willford Roosevelt
Has passed away on:
June 29, 2008
Mr. R. Roosevelt has mentioned you in his last testament and will
And your presence is required to fulfill the last requests of
Uncle Rutherford? Never heard of him. To me, he certainly was new. So if I was needed at his will reading, why not? Napa is a bit of a distance to go, especially from where I lived. I made the necessary arrangements at the office, finished up some filework, made the final rounds and left the office. Little did I know, this would be the last time I walked through those rows of cubicles. My plane arrived in San Francisco with little trouble and the woman next to me had to shake me back to life. I guess I couldn't stand in flight movies. I had rented a small SUV for the drive north to Napa county. It was probably more than I needed. The scenery exchanged itself from the bustle of San Francisco to the vast open fields and plains and rows upon rows of grapes growing in lines whose effect reminded me of stacks from college.
It was a small chapel. Chapel is an inappropriate word to describe. It was more like a rustic shack with a lean to office. Uncle Rutherford must have not been that important. Inside, the chapel was filled with flowers and his casket sat at the end of the room. The room was small. It seemed as if only twelve or ten people could fit in here. From the door that led into the lean-to, emerged the director of funerals. He was a short, stocky man. His hair was snow white and his skin tanned from years under the California sun. His suit was ill fitting and he was obviously perspiring from the weather. At his command, the usher went to the windows and pulled the top transoms open.
"Rutherford Roosevelt. A great man, a philantrophist, a simple man, a king among paupers. He will be sorely missed."
Where did that come from?
"Born in 1942 to Harvey Lewis Roosevelt and Edith Jane Hamil, Rutherford..."
It went on for another twenty minutes.
"Thank you all for attending the service. If you would, the body shall be interred and if the funeral party would like to proceed towards the cars outside. People who came in personal vehicles, please adhere the 'funeral' sticker to the front window."
Funeral Party. That was one way to describe it. But I hadn't seen my mother yet. The procession found its way further north, into Ukiah, then onto a small side road. I thought this must have been the most remote cemetery location possible. The procession made one more turn and we were on a private road. I caught a glimpse past the three limousines and the hearse. There stood a massive victorian thing. Palace seemed like an appropriate word to describe it. It turned again and the hearse stopped outside a fenced area of grass. A few gravestones marked the area and obviously, this must have been a family site. The procession brought the casket to the corner of the fenced in area where a large stone mausoleum stood. The door was unlocked and the casket brought inside. The mausoleum itself was a round building with a rotunda in the center. In the center of the room was a long oaken table, with magnificently hewn legs in the shape of tigers claws. The casket was placed on top of the table and a silk flag with the Roosevelt crest draped over it. The director who had made his presence known back in Napa entered again.
"Friends and family, I welcome you to the Roosevelt mausoleum. Built in 1935 by James Naimsmith Roosevelt and his son Harvey Roosevelt, it currently houses the remains of all descendants of Thaddeus David Roosevelt when his body was exhumed and moved here"
He pointed at a dusty panel with an urn in front of it.
"In 1939. The mausoleum finally welcomes its last child of Harvey and Edith Roosevelt, Rutherford Roosevelt."
Last child? Grandpa Harvey and Gram gram Edie's last child to die was Rutherford? What about mom... My eyes frantically searched over the dusty stone panels. It took some finding but it was the top one on the south side.
Elizabeth Seagram Joyce-Roosevelt
I turned to the director. I asked.
"When did this happen?"
"Ah, it was a sad funeral. Only Rutherford and Bill had shown up. She specifically asked to be buried in a small quiet, immediate family funeral."
"But i'm her child."
"Oh... oh dear."
"What do you mean? 'Oh Dear?'"
"Well, we went through her will, the money went to Rutherford. But now that he's passed away..."
"Come now. We'll deal with it after we inter the body."
The ceremony lasted a few minutes. The Pall Bearers slid the coffin into the narrow slot and workmen lifted the granite slab in place and sealed it.
The office of the victorian "palace" was comfortably furnished. A massive oak desk rested in front of the large windows and overhead, an old painted china lamp cast a dim light. By now, there were more people present. There were at least thirty of us in here. The lawyer stood up and opened the envelope.
"To my dear family. I know that the blood line runs dry and there are only a few of you left. To my only son Wilbur, I leave the Ukiah House and its lands except for the family plot to you. Also, the endowment of 200,000 dollars shall be compounded into bonds and three 500 dollar bonds will be issued to you every month until its expiration. To my only nephew. Dear Dwight. We have had such fun over the years watching you grow up. Although we never saw each other after you started middle school, you are not forgotten. To you, I leave you the safe deposit box 4220 in San Francisco, a trust fund of 130,000 as well as the envelope which I trust Mr Biddup (the lawyer) will give you. Its contents will be self explanatory."
The lawyer handed me the key and the check for the fund to be deposited immediately and the envelope mentioned in the will. I opened it. It was a detailed account of my mother's death. She was ill towards the end of my college career and went into the hospital from 2003 until she passed away in 2005. I was apparently not notified as thought it would interfere with my studies. But apparently, they completely forgot about me until Uncle Rutherford died. Inside also was one key. It was an elaborate skeleton key, with a cracked piece of marble in the handle. a paper tag tied to it said that it would open the attic door C. With Wilbur next to me, we went to the top floor of the house. Wilbur was older than me by a few years, but he was obviously a country boy. He grew a beard, and he had a rugged air and look about him. But in the attic, there were several rooms partitioned to be storage rooms. A and B were open, their contents soaked in dust. But room C remained at the end of the hall, its door firmly shut. The key croaked in the slot and with a bit of shoulder into it, the door opened.
Several paintings leaned up against one of the partition walls and there were a few boxes of things here and there. But the most noticable thing stood in the center. Draped in a faded and stained silk cloth, it made a formiddable shape. I tugged it off. Underneath lay my old baby crib, a hit & miss engine and a large trunk. The trunk wasn't locked and it opened. Inside, several old furs and a photo album. Its cover was bound in leather and it was cracked in several places. Opening it, nothing was in its pages apart from a single letter.
"December 21, 2000
To my baby boy, Dwight Gregory Hammond Mulholland Joyce(-Roosevelt)
I know I cannot keep you. Your father is not who you think he is. If you are reading this, you have either discovered Attic C's key, or I have passed away. Truth is hard to bear. But William Joyce has been a father to you for the longest time. Treat him that way. Your real father well, I dont know. Is not anyone I remember. Dont bother searching for him. I beg you son. Truth is, Mommy never really well, she was promiscuous during the sixties. Your father is one of many people. The world is your father. But Bill has taken care of you. Please. Forgive me Dwight."
The letter ended there.