Recently, I was reminded of a relatively unsung song written by Neil Diamond in about 1972 and recorded for his double vinyl Hot August Night album at a Los Angeles concert on 24 August 1972. For a reported 1972 interview with DJ Ken Evans in the United Kingdom, Diamond told the story of writing the song. He said he had been thinking for some time about the sadness of dying alone. Then, one day while walking along a street, he passed a shop with a striking hand-carved table for sale in the window, and he immediately knew how he would approach the song about dying alone.
The title of the finished song is “Morningside.” It tells the story of a man’s lonesome, unmourned death as evidenced by a table that the man had hand-carved of oak and “made of nails and pride.” The table had then been surrounded by his children and “touched . . . with their laughter” while the man was alive.
But following the man’s death, the story reveals, the evidence that he died alone and unmourned was obvious as the table offered for sale had “carved these words inside: ‘For my children.’” Clearly, his children had “simply turned away” as “no one cried.”
Neil Diamond called it a “sad song.” Some might even pronounce it “maudlin.” But it tells a story about relationships, about the value of a life as shown by its legacy and the rejection of that legacy. Those children apparently failed to recognize or acknowledge the richness of their father and his work by not awarding the table the respectful place it should have been awarded.
I wonder why. What more is there to the story? Was the fact that the table was made by hand, not by a famous manufacturer, of greatest importance to them? Was the laughter imaginary only, or forgotten, or real but made painful in memory by something else, some other legacy? Did they not know about the carving on the bottom? Was their rejection of the table an indication of their lack of space for their father or just for the table? Had they taken their father for granted? Or did the problem lie in the unrevealed intangibles the man left his children? For me, mulling often leads to more questions than answers!
Lately, I have begun to mull my own legacy, my bequest, the inheritance I will leave my children and grandchildren. To me, the most valuable tangible gifts I will leave are those items at some time left to me. Of no particular monetary value, they are, however, of sentimental, of relationship value. Therefore, they are priceless.
For instance, I did not inherit my parents’ relatively valuable beach property or my grandparents’ Alabama farm or anyone’s precious jewelry. But I did inherit my third great-grandmother’s clock (See “The Patented Eight-Day Brass Clock” at mullingtime.com), my grandmother’s oak dressing table/desk, my aunt’s Mappin and Webb sterling silverware, my great-grandmother’s bed jacket and lace tattings, and my mother’s stained-glass window and cracked cookie jar, every item a small item made large by the hands that touched it before I did. And thus I am greatly blessed, and so are my children and grandchildren because they will be able to enjoy these same riches for a while. (I do not think of “inheritance” as “coming to own” but rather as having the privilege of “taking care of” for a short time.)
But the blessing comes with the life narrative that attaches to each object, with the history of love preserved in each article for the next generation, with the revelation of personality plain in each piece, with the reverence for family and tradition obvious simply from the presence now of each treasured item. The true blessing comes with the intangibles.
So what made me remember an obscure sad Neil Diamond song? At our Abel House meeting, our leader was asked about the heirloom dining room table around which we all gathered for our community feast and the thanks to be given before we ate the food placed on it. Robert answered that the table was an inheritance from his late father, his “father’s table,” the table at which his family had shared food, laughter, stories, work, and love. Clearly, Robert cherishes his father’s rich legacy and finds joy in sharing it not only with his own children but with friends in his larger church family. His father definitely did not die lonely and unmourned.
That impetus for sharing his father’s legacy was evident also in Robert’s love for his heavenly Father as he gathered us around that beautiful table, his “Father’s table,” to share the legacy of God’s sacrifice of His Son for the Salvation of all His children. It was further evident later when we read and discussed the Book of Jonah, which reminded us again that God is a Father God of mercy, compassion, grace, and kindness. He is slow to anger. He is a Father whose legacy of intangibles should not be taken for granted but should be lovingly treasured and shared with this and future generations, with our children.