UNITED STATES—Written on an envelope in dad’s barely readable, backward slanting script that, “Only to be opened in case of my death.”

“Well.” Denise said to her oldest.

“Well, what?” answered Rusty.

“Let’s do it.”

They proceeded to violate a trust, curiosity got the better of them after having been delivered this piece of mail by the patriarch himself. They disobeyed his will and had not waited for the event to happen which the author demanded was a condition for opening it. They cheated and steamed it open using an iron, and after a couple minutes of applying poofs of steam, the envelope slid easily open and out came a neatly written sheet.

Dear Family:

First, here’s to you Denise, Antoinette and Rusty, the best wife and kids a man ever had. You will be gratified to hear that, so give yourselves all a high five. In the event you are reading this it is because I wrote it on a computer—no one could ever read my scrawl—also it means I am dead.

Now, however, I want to tell you that it wasn’t easy as you think it was: living with you, that is. Dying was pretty easy, living was not. You always piled on your demands and needed help, sometimes muttering orders from a prone position in bed in the vulnerable seconds before I left at six on a Saturday morning because somebody called: “Can you do me a favor? Can you get me a can of hairspray,” just as I was on the wing to drive out. Or it could be a ride home from basketball practice as the raggedy end of a day when I was dragging myself home from Long Beach and then a call came to total some guy’s Buick in Sylmar.

Now that’s what I love, doing these things for my loved ones and later, sometimes, even to get randomly thanked for it: that was the frosting on the frosting, because I never really expected any thanks. Here’s the thing you didn’t know: I was already living on a call and the loading on of favors could be a drop of lemon that could curdle a whole day and get me off kilter. You’d open your mouths: out came “Jerry…” or “Dad…” followed by a long pause, and you will never know how much harm was inflicted on me in those seconds of pause, that preceded either a request for money or a laborious going out of my way and was often detrimental to the morale and love for you which kept the flow of favors going, my job as Insurance Adjuster for Pacific Fidelity.

That was the occupation that made my days utterly unpredictable and added up to seven years of weekends without a vacation, because I was at the beck and call of people whose cars had been crushed like soda cans, whose car frames had been irrevocably bent, poor schmucks or connivers bent on cheating Pacific Fidelity, as my days ricocheted between the 14 to I-5, to the 110 to the 101 to the Hollywood Freeway, the dread 405, to PCH and Mullholland Drive, not to mention the 60 and the 710 and the Imperial Highway, and I needed a clear head and a steady hand on the steering wheel to do it, but no doubt you asked for some trivial accessory, or copy of your birth certificate or a call to be made to the attendance office, or souvenirs from your travels to be delivered some friends, travel which I was never a part of because of my adjuster work. And the consequences of all your calls for help and all the favors finally spawned a distraction, however, momentary, which took my eyes off the road for a split second, maybe to take one of your calls & here we all are. You are the blame of it. A distraction, a brief miscalculation and I shot some sirens and a final ride in the back of a meat wagon.

Jerry’s wife Denise stopped reading and blinked back a tear. Of course they shouldn’t even be reading this, it was illicit. This was pornography of a new color. Denise reflected aloud, “Do you think those times I called on the cellphone were a source of irritation?” and bringing up money could have been a disturbance amidst seven a.m. traffic? “I should have been more sensitive. It’s funny how we see what only it in front of our nose.”

“Mom, you’re cryng,” Rusty said. “Why are you crying? You are prying into this letter and Dad is still very much with us.”

The daughter, Antoinette, comforted her mom and brother. Denise felt chagrined and said, “Of course I want to keep reading to see what inheritance we have coming to us.”

To be continued…

Graydon Miller is the author of “Later Bloomer: Tales from Darkest Hollywood,” available on Amazon.

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Hollywood humorist Grady grew up in the heart of Steinbeck Country on the Central California coast. More Bombeck than Steinbeck, Grady Miller has been compared to T.C. Boyle, Joel Stein, and Voltaire. He briefly attended Columbia University in New York and came to Los Angeles to study filmmaking, but discovered literature instead, in T.C. Boyle’s fiction writing workshop at USC. In addition to A Very Grady Christmas, he has written the humorous diet book, Lighten Up Now: The Grady Diet and the popular humor collection, Late Bloomer (both on Amazon) and its follow-up, Later Bloomer: Tales from Darkest Hollywood. (https://amzn.to/3bGBLB8) His humor column, Miller Time, appears weekly in The Canyon News (www.canyon-news.com)