Things You Get When Your Parents Die |
by Michael C. Keith

We pass through things temporal, that we finally lose not the things eternal.
                                                                         –– Prayer Book, 1662
Most of the sadness Leman Cummings felt about the recent passing of his parents had to do with how little they had to show for their existence on the planet. They left nothing of material value despite their years of hard toiling in the textile mills of Lawrence, Massachusetts. The elderly Cummingses had finally been forced to sell their modest house in order to pay for their care in a local nursing home. 


Leman had been able to contribute very little to their upkeep, due to the low salary he was paid as a hand truck operator on the shipping and receiving platform at a large appliance store. The small amount he had managed to give them had all but emptied his savings account, and his efforts to seek a better paying job were thwarted by his lack of higher education. Although he had accumulated a significant number of credits, he remained three courses shy of receiving his associates degree in business from Northern Essex Community College.


What he possessed of his deceased parents estate consisted of one small file container, a faded photo album, a few dishes and pots that had seen better days, and two sets of worn sheets and blankets that had been in the family since he was a child. With the exception of a tired Naugahyde recliner and wobbly end table that Leman had added to his collection, all of the Cummings’ old furniture had been either discarded or taken by the Salvation Army. Afraid they don’t do much to improve on this crummy apartment, thought Leman, surveying his stark surroundings.


He had moved from his parents’ house three years earlier in an attempt to finally declare his independence and begin his own life as an adult. However, for a number of reasons, he had continued to spend at least as much time with his mother and father as he did in his drab accommodations. For one thing, his mother was a good cook, and he didn’t like making his own meals. Secondly, he could keep a watch on their declining health, which, in the case of his father, was serious. And, as he had no real social life, being with his parents helped mitigate his loneliness.


Leman’s relationship with a fellow worker, Cary Boswell, had gone sour after a year and a half, and since then he’d been in such a deepening funk about his life that he had actually contemplated suicide. The needs of his ailing parents had kept him from doing so, but in their absence the notion of ending his barren existence had reasserted itself. Now, as he sat in the gloom of his cheap apartment, he considered ways of taking his life.


Got no gun, so that’s off the list. Death by asphyxiation? But how do you do that without a gas stove? Jump out the window. Only on the second floor though, so the best I’d do is break some bones and hurt like hell. Pills . . . yeah, pills are good. Just go to sleep, and it’s over. Could take mom’s old meds. Enough there to take down a wooly mammoth.   


As Leman considered his options, he opened the metal file container that he had removed from his parents’ house. He had quickly scanned its contents before and been both touched and depressed by a note addressed to him by his father:


Dear Son, I’m afraid our lives haven’t amounted to much, but we’ve always

tried our best to give you what we could. When you look at this ring, let it

remind you that we loved you with all of our hearts. Dad (and Mom)


Ring? What ring? Leman had wondered, digging through the box. Finally, he had dumped everything it contained onto the floor. Amid the pile of papers, he spotted what he hoped was the ring. There it is, he mumbled, reaching for it and lifting it toward his eyes. The silver band contained a black stone with what looked like a tiny diamond at its center. Was it Dad’s? Never saw it before. Why didn’t he ever wear it?


Leman attempted to put it on his ring finger, but no matter how hard he pushed, he couldn’t get it past his thick knuckle. Dad had such small hands, he recalled. The ring failed to fit his pinky as well, being too lose to wear without it slipping off. Maybe I can get it sized to fit me, thought Leman, placing it in his pants pocket. Later in the morning, he decided to take it to a jeweler to see if it could be adjusted to his finger’s dimension. However, on his way to the mall, another idea occurred to him. Maybe I could sell it. Could be worth something. Sure could use the money. As soon as the thought entered his head, he chided himself for considering it. It’s your father’s ring, Leman. His legacy to you. For God’s sake, that wouldn’t be right.


Yet, the idea stuck and soon Leman found himself at a local pawnshop. Let me just see what it brings, he reasoned, entering the store.


“You wanna sell or pawn it?” asked the middle age man behind a display case filled with all manner of objects, including watches, bracelets, and rings.


“I don’t know. What will you give me if I sell it?”


“It ain’t very valuable. Onyx with a little diamond chip. Give you a hundred bucks, and that’s more than I should. It’s old, so that might make it worth a little more.”


Leman thought about it for a moment. “Okay,” he answered, surprised at himself for so readily opting for the money.


On his way home, he tried to fight off the rising guilt he felt for peddling what clearly had been a treasure to his father. By the time he reached his apartment, he felt sick about it. I can’t believe I did that. Sorry, Dad. Your son is such a loser.


Leman sat in his apartment with the lights out, considering his shameless act and thinking about his parents and their many kindnesses to him. After less than an hour, he decided to return to the pawnshop and buy back the ring. Whatever he wants, I’ll give him, resolved Leman, turning the lamp on. As he rose from his father’s tattered recliner, his eyes fell on a shiny object on the end table. What the . . .! Can’t be . . . There before him was his father’s ring. How  . . .? He picked it up, and carefully inspected it. It’s his ring, but that’s impossible . . .


After his initial shock, Leman put the ring in his pocket and returned to the pawnshop.


“I found this in my apartment. I have no idea how it got there. I’m thinking I might have accidentally put it back into my pocket and took it,” explained Leman, holding the ring before the pawnbroker.


“Huh? What are you talking about? I sold it right after you left. Some old guy came in and bought it. Paid two hundred bucks for it. How’d you get it?”


“What was his name?”


“Don’t take no names.”


“What did he look like?”


“I don’t know. He was old, like I said. Had a mole on his chin and no uppers. You know, no teeth on top.”


Leman shuddered at the description. His father had lost his upper plate a year before he died and had refused to replace it because of the cost. And the mole the pawnbroker spoke of had always bothered Leman, who had long suggested his father get it removed in case it proved malignant.


“Where did he go?”


“Through that door,” replied the pawnbroker, looking at Leman with growing irritation.


“So you don’t know anything else about the person who bought this ring?”


“I told you everything I know, buddy.”


Leman left the pawnshop and returned to his apartment, all the while clutching the ring in his pocket. How could this happen? Was it my father’s ghost? Incredible. That just can’t be. I’m losing it. Dad, what’s going on?


Once again, Leman sat in the darkness of his apartment and pondered the day’s unsettling events. Eventually, he drifted off to sleep. In his dreams, his parents stood over his crib smiling at him lovingly, encouraged him as he attempted to ride his first two-wheeler, watched with pride as he performed in a school choir, cheered him on at a little league game . . .


When he awoke, he was filled with deep gratitude for everything they had given him.


“I’m so grateful, Mom and Dad, for all that you gave me and what you left me, too. Really sorry for selling your ring, Dad,” said Leman, reaching into his pocket for it, but coming up empty handed. Where the . . .? Don’t tell me I lost it!  He quickly reached for the light switch. When the room brightened, he noticed that his father’s heirloom was now on his ring finger  . . . and it fit perfectly.
Michael C. Keith teaches college and writes fiction. You can find his website at