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A Simple Story
Adelaide lived simply. She had a small wooden house and a small wooden shed. No bells and whistles. No frills. The only decoration that could be found was a beautiful garden. Moat people who walked by would stop for a moment and look at all the gorgeous blossoms, then close their eyes and drink in the heavenly aroma. But when they saw the creaky old house with the sagging roof, they always hurried away with some condescending remark about “poor Adelaide”.
And indeed Adelaide was poor by their standards. They drove shiny cars and wore fine jewelry while she walked barefoot and owned only a single gold necklace, a family heirloom. But Adelaide did not want their pity. She did not see herself as poor, for her daily needs were met. Her front garden was a good place to sit, and her back garden provided her with enough fresh fruits and vegetables to have a little roadside stand set up. All in all, Adelaide considered herself very fortunate indeed.
But three counties away, there lived one who was not so fortunate. Mrs. Mabury lay on her deathbed with tears in her eyes. She was a formidable old widow, well endowed and well respected. But as she looked back on all the days of her life, she could find hardly a single one that had contained a selfless act or a heartfelt smile. She knew now just how greedy and selfish she had been, and wondered if perhaps it was not too late to change her ways. She looked into the faces of all her relatives as they sat around her in a hushed silence. They all appeared concerned, but she knew that they were eager and expectant. They wanted her money. And she couldn’t blame them.
She had raised her children to be just like her. She had been their example and their guide. Mrs. Mabury sighed. They were just as rich and selfish as she. They did not need her money. But then she remembered something. “Where is Adelaide?” she asked them. “Where is my niece?” She remembered seeing the little girl shortly after her parents had passed away in the accident. What had become of her?
“Adelaide?” one of them said in surprise, “Your sister Anita’s daughter?” When she nodded, he explained that Adelaide had gone to live with a family friend until she was old enough to make her own way. Now, she had her own little place in Rapshire. “But why do you ask? Of what possible importance can she be?”
Mrs. Mabury didn’t answer. The tension on the faces of her family was obvious. They feared that she would leave all her wealth to this little girl. It was nonsense, of course, but… Even as she ruled out the possibility in her mind, a memory came to her of a letter that Adelaide had written. “My dear Aunt,” it began, “I was so sorry to hear of your recent illness. Had I the ability, I would certainly come visit you and help out in any way that I can. But alas, it is a long way to travel by foot.” She had enclosed pressed flowers in the envelope “to brighten even the darkest days.”
Suddenly Mrs. Mabury knew what she must do. “I have wronged you,” she said to those gathered around her, “I have raised you up to be just as selfish and heartless as me. And, unfortunately, I have succeeded. You are all just as rich and miserable as I was at your age.” She sighed. “But I desperately hope that it is not too late for you. I want you to find joy and meaning in your lives. That is why I have decided not to leave my wealth to any of you.” At this, there was a collective gasp. The old lady just held up her hand for silence and continued, “No, more wealth will not help you. Not one of you needs this money. But Adelaide does. She is poor, but was always very kind and thoughtful. I leave it all to her in the hopes that she will put it to good use. I beg each of you to forgive me for what I have made you. I regret that it is only here, at the end, that I found out what joy really is. Joy is a selfless thing. It is contentment and peace, no matter the circumstances.”
Mrs. Mabury passed away in her sleep that night. I wish I could say that her entire family took her words to heart and became better people because of it, but that would be a falsehood. Some did and some didn’t. Greed and selfishness are not quickly dismissed, nor easily cured. This is especially true for people like the Maburys, who have grown accustomed to a self-centered lifestyle. In any case, it may be understood that while Mrs. Mabury’s last words did not quite have their desired effect, they did not fall on deaf ears entirely.
As Adelaide walked home from the Rapshire General Store, she was surprised to see the postman stopping by her mailbox on his route. She rarely got mail. Curious, she hurried to it and opened the letter. “Dear Adelaide,” it read, “Good day to you from your family in Cummings. I would like to pay you a visit concerning business affairs of which I am sure you are aware of. You may expect me to arrive on the 6 o’clock train tomorrow morning. Sincerely, Robert Mabury”
Adalaide was puzzled, but her curiosity would not be satisfied until the following morning. When Robert got off of the train, she smiled and waved, but got only a withering glare from her older cousin. “Let’s go.” He said gruffly. She nodded, baffled by his anger, and led him to her house. He stopped at the gate in astonishment.
“It’s beautiful,” he said, gesturing at the garden. She thanked him and took him into the house which, though rather simple and unadorned, was by no means unpleasant. A few vases of freshly cut flowers sat around, making the place seem light and homey.
They sat down and he explained that his mother had left her vast wealth entirely to Adelaide. Astonished, Adelaide found herself completely speechless. She tried to refuse him, saying that she simply could not accept such a gift from a woman that she barely knew. Robert was shocked. “You mean…you mean you did not ask her for the money?”
“Ask her- why absolutely not! I have no right to it, Robert. I would never have—“
“Forgive me,” he replied, “But when she told us that she was going to leave her money to you, we all assumed that you had written to your aunt begging her to leave something to her poor niece. I see now that it was not the case. The fact remains, though, that the money is all yours, as is her house.”
“No,” she said firmly, “I will not take her house. I have never even been there. I give her home and all of her possessions to you and your siblings, to split up as you see fit. After all, she was your mother, not mine.”
The discussion continued until finally it was agreed upon that Adelaide would receive all of the late Mrs. Mabury’s vast savings, and the Mabury family would keep all of her “stuff”. Robert Mabury left Rapshire later that week as a changed man. He had become good friends with his cousin, and had learned some astonishing life lessons from Adelaide. Joy, he realized was a selfless thing. It was contentment and peace no matter the circumstances.
And Mrs. Mabury’s hopes for her money came true. Adelaide put it to good use. She gave it all away to those in need. All except a small sum that she spent herself. She had gone against her better judgment and made the most expensive purchase of her life: a set of wind chimes for her flower garden.