When my father died, a bank contacted my mom and told her Dad had purchased a safety deposit box a decade before, and having learned of his death, were compelled by the law to inform her, as well as the Federal, state and local authorities, of its existence.
My Dad had been in the Navy since he was fifteen, a story unto itself, but he retired from the service when he was about forty, tried selling cars, too honest, tried drafting for GDA, too boring a job, but then hit on the idea of owning bars. 'Cocktail Lounge' is the legal nomenclature used in California for saloons. Dad was charming, he knew drinks, unfortunatey, he enjoyed the product too much, and he really wasn't much of a businessman.
Nonetheless, over the next decade, he owned quite a few bars, The Oak Knoll Inn, The Buckboard, The Black Sheep Inn, The Santee Hideaway. Dad could make people laugh, at him, at each other, at themselves. I could see where someone might go to the local Dew Drop Inn to exchange banter with my Dad. Me? I was a grim little kid that my Dad would work into a Donald Duck imitation with his sly Southern wit.
"You know I love you, son," Dad would say when I'd blown a gasket. "I wouldn't tease you if I didn't love you."
They're all gone now, the honky-tonks and dives my dad had owned and run.The Black Sheep Inn was the last to close not so many years ago. I remember when he got his first liquor license, using money he'd saved from his Naval retirement fund, over-hearing the parents discussing the questions the ABC Board were asking. Had Dad changed his name recently? Was he or his wife or any other relations of Italian or Sicilian extraction? Did they know or associate with anyone of Italian or Sicilian ancestry?
My father once described the California Alcohol Beverage Control Board as being what the FBI should be and what the Gestapo was. The ABC never liked my Dad.
Having jumped through all the hoops to satisfy the state, he was granted a license that he carried through several bars, transferring it for a fee until he had acquired others through the bars he'd buy, but the experience of getting a liquor license in California seemed to color Dad's relationship with the ABC the rest of his short life.
In any case, Mom had never heard of this safety deposit box, so an appointment was made for opening it. When she arrived, there was an IRS agent, an ABC man, and the bank president waiting for her. The G-men were grim and rude, and the president was sweating bullets. They demanded she tell them what was in the box, didn't believe her when she said she didn't know.
Now, Mom served in the MASH 8055 in Korea. She was literally a combat veteran. Mom told stories with melancholy nostalgia that would give me nightmares. She was always impecably polite, but nothing really rattled her. She'd been so close to death so many times, what were a pair of government goons going to do to her? I imagine this cool must have really ticked off the G's. She suggested that if they wanted to know what was in the box, why not just let her open it. They seemed to want a confession first, but finally, grdugingly agreed.
She was ushered into the walk-in safe, rows of boxes locked up in their cubbies. Dad's safety deposit box was laid out before her, and she was given the key to open it, as if she would be incriminated when she did.
The room was so packed with clerks and witnesses, as well as her and the bank president and the two government agents, that they were quickly sucking the oxygen out of the place. She opened the box with utter silence all around.
The box contained match books, a pen and pencil, some loose coin, and a pile of cocktail napkins, the kind tucked under a drink at a bar, with dirty jokes and pictures on them. It was all hauled out and inventoried. It was basically the contents of my Dad's pockets, and maybe his shirt pocket as well.
Mom said she had never enjoyed laughing at people, but this bunch, she had a hearty belly roll as she shoved her way through the crowd, leaving the treasure behind.