Money is the root of all evil in family inheritance disputes
Money is the root of all evil. So true, unfortunately. Sophie thought as she waited, deeply appreciative that Bea had the capacity and willingness to translate the letter.
I always have to laugh a lot when you write about your kids and your darling wife, for her letters always bring the sun in my home and then I feel always a lot better than before.
Now something else. Hey Nico. Do you know your dad’s and my eldest sister died in 1958, 1 April? Her husband died 2 years before. She had a son, but nobody knew that she had that son. He received ¾ million dollars. I prefer not to go into details, but your dad, myself and our two sisters all got a special gift of twenty thousand dollars each. We already had had eight thousand of this money when I was in Australia. At that time, I had a good brain capacity – it seems that some strange intention was involved in inviting me. As I already had that money, they told me that my money had to be placed in the name of my brother in his bank. Yes, I had to do it.
Sophie’s face had reddened with her jaw clenched as Bea read. ‘What? How could he force his sister who was in Canada? It’s one thing to have him living on our property and have him harass my mum till she did what he wanted. But how the hell could he enforce it from the other side of the world?’
‘Well as you know, he was very manipulative, and had invited your great aunt to visit them in Australia. It would seem that he’d written a very enticing letter which perhaps made Tante Angelique very curious.’ Bea leaned back and crossed her legs. ‘From what I know from the few times I met her, and the very many letters she wrote to my husband and myself, she was a inquisitive person who liked to learn about many things. Naturally, it was a great opportunity to travel and she’d not been to Australia. So, an invitation to stay with her brother might have been a nice experience, especially as they already had a gift of what would’ve been a lot of money in those days.’
Sophie raked her hand through her hair. ‘Gosh! Then trapped in his house in a foreign country, all alone. Crikey! She was totally at his mercy. I’ve heard him badger people. He shouted and never let up. He’d thump his fist on the table, with lots of finger-pointing. Nobody could calm him – even his wife – who generally did a good job of that. It would go on for hours – usually till he got his way. I’ve seen him do it to Mum often. She and Opa’s wife would often use the presence of us kids as an excuse for Mum to exit.’ Sophie let out a sigh, as if she’d just got out of the door of her grandfather’s house.
Bea grimaced. ‘It was exactly the same here! Before he went to Australia in 1954, there were similar incidents. I soon stopped visiting my husband-to-be at his father’s home. It was awful.’ Bea shuddered. ‘Shall I read you some more?’ Sophie nodded.
I would get the interest off the money in the bank. Then the wife of my brother said that when I died, the money would go to their children, but not to you.
Bea looked up at Sophie who had a tight-lipped grin as she nodded. Bea mirrored a forced smile. ‘That was the situation of my husband with his dad.’ Sophie swallowed her welling tears as she heard the next sentence.
All the other children would get it, because my brother and his wife wanted it that way. So that meant my own son would not get anything of my inheritance either!
Sophie’s eyebrows shot up under her curly fringe. ‘Oh! What the…’ She pouted her lips and looked at Bea, who gave another forced grin and added, ‘So it had to go as her brother and his wife wanted. To their girls and not to the son.’
‘But it was her own money!’ Sophie’s eyes widened as she placed her chin on her hand, neck muscles taut. She appeared deep in thought as Bea looked back at the letter. Memories of how scared she was of Opa when he got angry flooded her thoughts. She could hear his voice and see the lounge room. It was as if he’d glued people’s feet to the floor. When her mum tried to leave before he’d finished his diatribe he’d yell, ‘Sit! Je moet Luister (You must listen.) Pass op (Watch out)!’ She never knew what the threat would deliver, but her mum would say that if she didn’t stay; he would be even worse. Bea gave Sophie a quick look before translating as she read:
My brother explained that he didn’t know what his sisters would do with the money, therefore he wanted to force me to accept this way of doing things – to give it to him and his wife… Then there was a moment that my hand got stiff.
Bea looked up at her niece, ‘So you see he had already taken her to a lawyer. She was in a difficult situation…’ as she put that page behind the others and looked back down.
When we got out of the office to go home, my brother with all kinds of love would have killed me.
Sophie winced, then smiled at Bea’s translation, using her favourite expression of sarcasm. She looked at the letter where Bea’s finger marked her place on the text,
… m’n nek met pleisier om willen draaien.
Sophie clasped her chin between thumb and index fingers. She could now understand the writing, ‘…my neck with pleasure he will wring.’ Her eyes became fixed; her body stiffened as she felt the thumbs of her ex-partner on her own throat after she’d tentatively explained to him that she’d run out of money.
Bea put her hand on Sophie’s. ‘Should I stop reading? Is this too much for you?’
‘It’s okay. It’s better when you read it. When I read what she actually wrote it triggered my own nightmare relationship – which was also all about my ex-partner getting hold of my assets.’ Sophie rubbed her throat. ‘I didn’t earn even a quarter of what he did after tax, yet he expected me to pay 50 per cent of the house-building costs. So, of course, I ran out of savings. He also got very very angry, and, as you know, violent. He tried to do what Angelique says in her letter when I asked him to let me draw down what was essentially my mortgage.’
Bea’s body became rigid. ‘I’m so sorry I didn’t help you better. When I visited you in Australia, and he came back from his overseas work, it was very tense in the house. I wished I could’ve asked more questions and done more. I tried to talk with your mother, but she just dismissed what was happening.’
‘You did so much for me when I finally left him and had to produce evidence and witnesses to the court. Remember you nearly died from that tick bite while you were staying with us? You weren’t in any fit state to confront him.’
‘Of course, feeling the tension and the strange way he treated you wasn’t evidence, so I’m not sure that my affidavit would have had much impact on the court decisions,’ Bea’s voice quivered. ‘You’re right though, I was in no fit state, and was asleep in your bed most of the time. I hope that was the only time I will ever be in a wheelchair.’
‘Dad was right in his element, pushing you in the chair to get to the airport boarding gate. We all wondered if we’d see you alive again.’ Sophie stood and took the tea-cups to the kitchen sink.
On returning, she said, ‘It’s so difficult to describe the tension you feel in the presence of such angry, controlling men. You know, when I was doing the relationship therapy dialogue with him one day at home, the link just popped out of my mouth. I said, “You’re exactly like Opa”.’