It was his way of saying "You can't take it with you."
He was a very sensible man about money, far more than his only daughter has ever been. He was one of the hardest working men I have ever known and his mission in life was to provide for his family. We were never rich, but there was always food on the table and a roof over our heads.
That being said, he often splurged on things - trips, jewelry for Mom, antiques or one of a kind experiences - and when he was questioned about the expense he'd say "They can steal your money. Put the things you want to keep in the places they can't get to - your heart, your memories, your soul."
I'll confess I had forgotten those particular words of wisdom over the years. One of my Mom's funny encounters brought them back to my mind. Her dry cleaner is a philosophical Hindu gentleman with whom she discusses religion every time she visits his business. The image of my Holiness raised strict Methodist mother discussing religion with a devout Hindu always makes me smile. Recently he told her the story of an ancient king who after a long reign lay dying. He told his ministers to place him in his ornate casket with his hands hanging open outside the lid. He wanted his people to know that in death you leave as you came into the world - empty handed.
Writers are well-acquainted with the concept of EMPTY! Empty pages, empty hours staring at a blank page, empty pages. And those of us who go the extra mile and attend workshops or conferences or do any number of other things to pursue our dreams are more than well-acquainted with the concept of empty bank accounts.
Want to know a secret? As writers we have more treasure than King Tut's tomb and the most important thing we need to realize is - we can't take it with us. What treasure? Our stories! Our stories are gifts - given to us by a muse, or God, or a guardian angel or whatever creature you believe puts those scenes and chapters and tales into your head. Some of them spring up and demand to be told. Some of them lie in a treasure chest waiting for us to find the key and bring them out into the light. Some of them are stuck in a deep, dark hole filled with quicksand and we know we'll need a backhoe and a mule team to get them onto paper.
The world of publishing is changing. It gets tougher every day. Many of us have files and files of story ideas - books we want to write, books we want to sell. And sometimes when things get tough we decide those stories will just have to stay unwritten in those little boxes because it is just too hard, or nobody will ever buy them anyway, or there are just too many stories out there how will anyone notice mine? I have had days like that, trust me. I have had whole weeks and months like that, especially lately. Not anymore.
Thanks to a little Hindu man and the almost forgotten words of my father I have come to realize something. My stories have value. When I am gone, they may well be the only thing I leave behind worth anything. And even if that value is only enjoyed by one person or a dozen people I owe it to the giver of gifts to be sure I don't take those stories with me.
Every bit of talent and desire I have ever had to create, whether in my musical career or in my writing career, came from somewhere. It was a gift. I didn't earn it. I got lucky. What I choose to do with those gifts is up to me. And I think to waste them might just be a sin. I came into this world empty-handed. When it comes to my stories that's how I intend to go out. I'll leave them all here and trust they will find their purpose.
Nothing will get in my way - not the ever changing business, not the weariness born of a soul-sucking day job, not the negativity of other writers worn down by the rough road writing puts us on, not rejection or my own limitations. I can't take them with me. I'll leave them all here. As many as I can until I'm too old and senile to remember what POV or internal conflict are. My treasures won't be a fancy house, a fancy car or the things in which people put so much store.
What I take with me will be those things I can store in my memory, my heart and my soul. Things like the help of my fellow writers, my memories of RWA National Conferences, nice things said by people I respect about my writing, the things I've learned and seen along the way. What I leave behind will be the stories I have been blessed with and the knowledge that somewhere someone will learn something or get enjoyment from the stories I've told. Isn't that what stories are for? To be told?