Pepper, watch and the coin

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It was the oldest and ugliest house on Maple Street with a beautiful view of a meadow that came alive with sunflowers each summer. The old woman who lived there had gone to a nursing home three years prior so the dilapidated structure fell into even more disrepair.
When the woman died, her estate with a portly lawyer named Theodore Grimsby took ownership of the property and it was placed on auction. A young couple, just two years married, got it dirt cheap with the intention of tearing down the house and building new. The very day they closed on the property, a big yellow construction vehicle arrived with one of those shovels on the end to knock the building over and dig up the land. They weren’t 20 minutes into the project when the man in the hard hat stopped what he was doing and called the couple, telling them they’d better get over there.
When Sam and Audrey Lopez arrived, the construction worker said, “I was digging up part of the front yard when I found the damndest thing.” He pointed to three distinct places in the yard and three piles of what, at first, looked like junk. The first pile was of old watches. There had to be 30 or 40 of them in all shapes and sizes. One or two were even still ticking. The second pile appeared to be old glass and plastic spice containers. When Audrey inspected a few more closely, she saw they were all filled with pepper. And the third pile was the only one of real value—silver dollars, some dating back to the early 1900s. “What the hell?” Sam asked no one in particular.
The couple collected the items off what would eventually be their front lawn and immediately called the only person who might have a clue what this was about—the lawyer Mr. Grimsby. He picked up on the third ring and when the couple told him what the construction worker had unearthed he laughed and said, “I’ve been waiting for this call.”
They drove over to the lawyer’s office where he placed them in comfortable leather chairs and unlocked a drawer behind his big mahogany desk. In his hand was a single envelope with handwriting on the front that said “Do Not Open Unless the New Owners of my Home Find Something Strange.” It was fair to say this qualified. Grimsby handed the letter over and leaned back in his own comfortable seat, anxious to hear what the letter said.
“Dear Friends,” it began, “if you are reading this I am gone from this world but perhaps I can still be of some use to you. I can only guess that the reason you are sitting here in my lawyer’s office is because you’ve done some digging in my yard, what is now your yard, and found some curious things. You are not losing your mind and I certainly wasn’t losing mine when I buried those items over the past 40 years. Let me now explain their purpose and, in doing so, perhaps share some wisdom with you.”
The letter continued, “My name is Mildred Winthrop. I fell in love a long time ago but my husband died in the war so there would be no children. Still I lived a full and mostly happy life in the home you just purchased. In the early years after losing my sweetheart, I was a bitter person and withdrew from the world. Then one night, my late husband came to me in a dream and he was very angry with me. He said, ‘This is not the life I intended for you and if you keep living this way I will blame myself for leaving you.’ That next morning I thought about the dream and what he said and I went to the front yard, buried three items and restarted my life.”
“I buried a watch to remind myself that time is precious and not to waste it on the ‘what ifs’ of this world. You get one life—live it to its fullest every day. I buried a small jar of pepper to rid myself of bitter thoughts and feelings and try my best to always be kind, especially to those going through a tough time. And lastly, I buried a silver dollar for two reasons—first to remind myself to be charitable and give to the less fortunate and also to demonstrate that money should never be the most important thing in my life; people should be.”‘
The letter closed, “I repeated this ritual every April as a way of cleansing my soul and setting myself right with the world. I wish you nothing but peace and love in my home.”
Audrey and Sam drove home in silence, not sure what to think of the old woman’s letter or yearly offering to the earth. Six months later when their new home was built, Sam woke early one April morning to find his wife out in the front yard sipping coffee and holding a small gardening tool in her hand. “What’s up sweetie?” he asked. Audrey smiled and said, “Give me your watch.”
John Gray is weekly columnist for the Troy Record and the Saratogian newspapers and news anchor at ABC 10 and FOX 23. He can be reached at johngray@fox23news.com.

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