The Chest

The Cap’n kept his finances close to his chest, so to say. In a small locked chest below his desk. He had been careful as a Master Mariner to invest in good opportunities as he saw them. After the War, he worked for a soap company and was their leading salesman year after year. He invested in their stock and did well. The chest he pointed out to me was proof that God wanted him to do well. My wife piped up with ” and Daddy paid for my entire four years at college!” – a sore point. I worked thirty hours a week through undergrad, took loans, and fought for the minimal scholarship money available.

Holding it in for a minute, I exhaled and opined – “Cap’n I haven’t seen you singing many hymns on Sunday, nor have you ever tithed.” Now I had done it. My wife shot me the “look,” my mother-in-law shot me the “look,” and the Cap’n pulled a look that was like he’d just smelled week-old dead fish on the pier.

I tried to put on a chipper smile and walked away like it was nothing. “I’ll be down to the cove working on Psyche.” No matter how mad at me the Cap’n became, he never objected to free work on the boat.

The episode neatly bifurcated the week. Before, it had been a chilly but bright June; now, it was continuous squall lines passing through. It was my brother-in-law who took the pressure off of me: a first-class aerospace engineer, local historian, and financial basket case. He made the pilgrimage from Boston to Maine because of a layoff at his company. He needed help with the mortgage.

The Cap’n called a family meeting. I tried to exclude myself, feeling that this was their family’s issue, not mine. I was, despite this, dragged into the display of the soiled family linens.

There were the usual accusations of the son being wayward in attendance on his aging parent. The ” Please, Dad, can you help out this once.” So it went. At last, the Cap’n unleased the Biblical quotes: “Proverbs says that – The rich rules over the poor, and the borrower is the slave of the lender.” 

While no one was paying attention to me, I pawed my way through a dog-eared copy of the Bible. Finding ammunition in Proverbs, I quietly handed the book to my brother-in-law and indicated the passage.

” But Dad” he said ” it also says that “Whoever oppresses a poor man insults his Maker, but he who is generous to the needy honors him.”

My mother-in-law beamed at me. My wife grabbed my hand and squeezed it. The Capn’ suspecting something gave me his version of the look; But he reached under the desk for the chest.