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Some seashells may have saved my life.   

A few months ago, I asked my wife where she’d go if she could go anywhere. Over the years we’ve traveled a fair amount, but usually to places for a story I was writing. I’m sure she enjoyed the time in Argentina when I wrote about the vanishing way of life of the gaucho and touring the 42-acre tomato greenhouse in Germany was another good time, but I'm not sure either trip was on her bucket list. 

She likes oceans, long quiet walks, and nature, so when she said Sanibel Island, I bought the tickets. In the spirit of a getaway, for literally the first time in twenty years, I did not take my laptop with me. Nothing to write, no newspapers to read, I wasn’t even going to check my email. 

However, the first time we put our rental car into reverse, I noticed the backup camera didn’t work. I didn’t want Thrifty to think I’d broken it, so I used my phone to send them an email telling them of the issue. The next morning, I checked for a reply and instead there was a message from Prudential Life Insurance company, telling me that because I hadn’t responded to their communications, they were putting my father’s life insurance in the box for unclaimed property. 

So much for relaxation.   

Here’s the deal. After my father died, I was going through his papers and found that in 1957 he’d purchased a $10,000 life insurance policy from Prudential. I filed the claim on January 15, sending them the death certificate and the trust documents listing me as trustee, everything they required. Since then, I’ve counted twelve email exchanges with Prudential, and I’ve honestly lost track of the number of phone calls. I called them, again, from our hotel room and after a reasonable amount of time on hold, I was connected to a person who told me that I had to sign and have notarized a form stating that my father’s total estate was less than $75,000. 

My father was a successful farmer who paid off his last mortgage in 1987. Trust me, his estate was worth more than that. She said even though the form says his entire estate, what it means is his total amount of life insurance. I raised the point, quite reasonably I thought, that if it meant total amount of life insurance, why did it say total estate?   

She changed the subject and said, “You also need to send the death certificate.” 

I said, “I sent it two and a half months ago, with all the other forms you asked me to send!” 

There’s a chance I raised my voice. 

She said, “Please hold.” 

She came back in a couple of minutes and said, “I found the death certificate. We may have to look into the cause of death.” 

Of course. This whole debacle reeks of possible fraud. A 96-year-old man dies and his family files a claim to collect on a small life insurance policy he paid on for half a century or more. I don’t blame them for being suspicious – they should look into the possibility of foul play as well. Granted, I was 200 miles away when he had his fatal stroke, but that could have been me just establishing an alibi. I easily could have paid a member of the nursing home staff to slip something into his chocolate milk. They should put Monk and maybe Sherlock Holmes on the case. Is Matlock still alive? Or that old lady from “Murder She Wrote”?   

When I finished the call, I have no idea what the expression on my face was, but I suspected it wasn’t good when my wife looked closely at me and said, “You should take a walk.” 

We walked to the beach, trudged through the loose sand to the water’s edge. Sanibel is known for the huge number of seashells that wash up, and we literally had to crunch our way through a drift of them to get to the hard packed sand where the day’s offerings were scattered. I took some deep breaths, looked down, and in a mile or so accumulated a nice collection of shells. By the time we were back at the hotel I was once again fit for civilized company.   

I don’t suppose the seashells actually saved my life, but baby, they certainly saved something. 

Copyright 2024 Brent Olson 


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