When sisters fight over their elderly father's best "stuff"

Reading: Divide and Conquer?

Love & Relationships

Divide and Conquer?

Sisters duke it out over the spoils from their father's house. Part 3 of our humorous series

By Mel Miskimen

“You better hurry up. Your sister’s in the garage!” Dad was sitting in one of the olive drab folding chairs he and my mother had taken with them on their camping sojourns. “She got here an hour ago!”

My sister and I had discussed the logistics of dividing and conquering Dad’s household two days earlier over lunch and a few day drinks. We had agreed to start with the garage and then move on to the attic, the basement, and finally closets. We had said we would decide together (with Dad’s input) what items would be donated, what would stay with the house, and what my father would be taking with him to assisted living. Mutually agreed upon items would be divided between the two of us.

She had already separated the contents of his garage into different categories:
• Things She Wanted
• Things She Didn’t Want But Would Take Because She Didn’t Want Me To Have Them
• Things She Wanted Because She Had Seen Something Similar On Antiques Roadshow That Turned Out To Be Worth Big Bucks
• “That pile,” she wiped the sweat from her forehead with the sleeve of her #I’mwithher t-shirt, “is mine!”

She had laid claim to a Coleman® camping lantern circa 1955, a matching cookstove, two WPA canvas tents, a folding shovel from World War II, a pair of wooden skis my father found someplace, a cache of empty ammo boxes, several wooden crates stamped with the logo of a long-gone local soda company, fishing rods, reels, and the tool chest.

It was handmade, not by my father, but by his father. It was large. Wooden. Nothing fancy. Its form followed its function. With its desirable patina, it would have commanded top dollar in an antiques store — perfect in someone’s loft as an upcycled coffee table.

“That’s your pile.” She pointed the neck of her beer bottle toward a piddly grouping of rusted C-clamps, a hook and pulley system my father had used to hoist a dead deer carcass up into the rafters for easy butchering, an angel — both wings broken and therefore grounded, next to Mom’s geraniums — and a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary in need of facial reconstruction.

I could have succumbed to her Jedi powers, convinced that it was all just stuff, after all. Stuff I didn’t need, but she had to have.

But I wasn’t nine. I was 63. “Hang on a minute!” I said.

She had already loaded everything into the back of her Mini Cooper. Except for one thing, the tool chest. She squinted a Clint Eastwood kind of squint. I was supposed to back down. But yet, I persisted.

“I will allow you to keep all of these things – under one condition,” I said.

“Allow?” she said.

My father offered to act as referee or give first aid, whichever came first.

“I get to pick something out of the tool chest,” I said.

“Something? As in one thing?”

“Sounds fair,” my father said.

She harrumphed.

I opened the tool chest reverently, gently moving its sacred contents: chisels, planers, hand drills, levels, wood-handled screwdrivers, hammers — any one of them would have been contenders, had I not removed a wooden tray and spotted the metal pattern maker’s tools.

They were elegantly curved. Finely machined. The tiny gears and screws made with a watchmaker’s precision. Score!

She shrugged. She said she didn’t care about them. She said I could have all of them. “All of them?!” I said. Why was she being so generous? I offered to split them with her. She refused. She was doing that thing she had always done after she had been burned — trying to convince herself she hadn’t really wanted the job, or the dress, or the husband.

She said she’d come back for the tool chest, but not before she had taken several pictures of the contents with her phone. Was she afraid I’d stoop so low as to take something? Or was she going to be Googling things to see how much each tool was worth on eBay?

Her Mini looked as if she was prepared for a doomsday disaster. I had to pull out of the driveway first, the tools neatly arranged on the seat next to me. What should I do with them? They’d look good framed. Or just by themselves as sculpture.

I was backing out when I got a text.

It was from my sister.

She had attached a photo of a pair of calipers that looked exactly like the pair I had next to me. A link. Vintage Pattern Maker’s Tool: $209.

You owe me. BIG TIME!!!!!!!!!!!!

Followed by five very angry emojis.


This is the third installment in a series Mel Miskimen is writing for TheCovey about the drafty empty nest she shares with her husband, who is on the fast track to sainthood. Miskimen is a writer based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and author of Sit Stay Heal.  Her previous articles for Covey include installment #1, “No Guns for Old Men,” and #2,“Call Me. Maybe.

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