The Last Paintbrush and the Lifetime Guarantee

“Can you use these?” my father held out an array of paintbrushes, ranging in size from petite angled devices to wide, stout brushes. Decades removed from Texas, he retained a trademark slow Texan drawl that extended beyond his speech to his movements and demeanor. “I’ll be 96 next birthday,” he continued, “I reckon my painting days are over.” It was an admission of diminished abilities that came reluctantly, but honestly.

Some of the brushes were new, the ones that had been used were in like-new condition. My father took care of his things. As newlyweds during the Great Depression (the real one), my parents lived by the motto, “make do, make it last, wear it out.”

Pictured above is the last survivor of that group. It’s a sturdy brush, four inches wide and an inch thick. Fully loaded with paint, it’s a wrist-buster. I didn’t have to ask where it came from, like many men of his generation when it came to tools, tires, paint, and brushes, his go-to source was Sears & Roebuck. Embossed on the ferrule are the words, “LIFETIME GUARANTEE.”

In my hands, it did not last a lifetime.


There are few advantages to maturing (I refuse to call it getting old), but they do exist. Chief among those is perspective. If you are paying attention at all as you notch years in your belt, you will learn to separate the wheat from the chaff, you will learn the difference between the insignificant and those things that truly matter, you learn that things are just things, no matter their cost, even if they have “Lifetime Guarantee” stamped on them.


Looking back, the things I really needed to know in life I learned from my father. Any knowledge of the Pythagorean theorem or the Magna Carta has sadly disappeared, but I am left with my father’s examples of how to take care of things, and it extends far beyond paintbrushes. Taught by example, the hierarchy was very clear; Your relationship with God, your relationship with your spouse, your relationship with your family, your relationship with your friends.

Taking care of a paintbrush requires work. After a day of painting, I’m tempted just to chuck the thing into the trash because I’m not in the mood to care of it properly. Maintaining relationships requires a lot more work than maintaining a brush. Being a good spouse is work. Being a good parent is work. Being a good friend is work. There are days when it’s tempting just to throw that relationship onto the scrap heap, but a relationship is not a paintbrush, it has lifetime implications. While there are no guarantees with relationships, their successes or failures will last throughout your life and deserve our best efforts. There are no magic formulas or easy answers. Life is messy, families can be messy on steroids.

Listen – Give – Take – Speak – Respect – Value – Honor – Stand Your Ground – Defer – Communicate – Love – Listen Again


I played out a scenario where I walked into the last remaining Sears store, laid the paintbrush on the counter and demanded my money back. The clerk would look at the paintbrush, then look at me and say, “Sir, if you had taken better care of this brush, we would have honored the guarantee.”

Peace, Poppy
(and take care of those closest to you)

Scenes from an Italian Restaurant (with apologies to Billy Joel)

The years and life experiences had softened and rounded both her figure and personality …

St. Louis is thick with Italian restaurants, ranging from the ridiculous to the sublime. Within that range, on a scale from 1 to 10, I would have given this establishment a 7. Family owned, most of their menu selections created within the restaurant, you didn’t get the feeling that everything served there was loaded off a Sysco truck. It was situated along the service road of I-270, in an unpretentious strip mall, in a slowly declining part of town.

My first meal at that restaurant occurred decades ago. My office at the time was on that same service road. I had gone out for lunch with some co-workers and remember ordering the Chicken Spiedini. This is fairly remarkable since it’s a struggle to tell you what I had for lunch two days ago. Fast forward years later, Mrs. Poppy and myself now live just two miles from that same restaurant. It became part of our regular dining rotation when I wasn’t cooking. Most of the time I would get take-out after work, bringing it home for a relaxed dinner with Mrs. Poppy.

The hostess was a middle-aged woman, her given name was Karen, if I ever knew her surname it is long forgotten. She was nondescript in almost every way. The years and life experiences had softened and rounded both her figure and personality, but her eyes were bright, smiles offered generously, her laugh infectious. We had plenty of time to chat as my orders were prepared. She moved back to St. Louis from Florida to live with her mother after a divorce and a serious stroke left her unable to keep her job in the construction industry. She had connections with the family that owned the restaurant and her sister worked there as a bartender. A hostess job seemed the perfect solution to re-entering the workforce after her illness.

Cavatelli Primavera, Tortellini Alfredo, Cannelloni Bianco, Beef Sotto, and of course Chicken Spiedini were all alternately ordered then boxed for the journey home by Karen. We continued to chat during this process and along the way discovered a common interest … books and literature. She rattled off the names of some prominent and prolific authors, laughed and told me she read a lot of their works after her stroke, not because she was a big fan of theirs, but because the plots were so predictable she felt it helped her brain synapses reconnect. Over the years we debated the merits of various authors and traded paperbacks as my orders were prepared.

More often than not, when I returned home and unboxed the take-out, there would be a bonus package; a serving of cannoli or cheesecake, courtesy of Karen. I was particularly happy when it was cheesecake, because Mrs. Poppy is not fond of cheesecake, alleviating any guilt associated with eating the entire portion by myself.

I entered the restaurant after having been away for two or three weeks. Karen was not at her station. I didn’t think much about it and started to walk over to the bar to place my order when the owner hurried over and pressed a generous glass of wine in my hand. He told me that Karen had another stroke and this time it was fatal. It was a somber meal that night.

I continued to go to the restaurant and place my take-out orders at the bar. They had a dependable group of regulars. Conversation was never lacking. Discussions on weather and politics could be counted on. The state of Cardinal’s baseball was a staple of debate … but no one talked about books.

A few months ago, I returned to the restaurant only to find the lights out, the doors locked and a for sale sign in the window. I was not prepared for the emotions and memories that came over me as I drove away from that shuttered restaurant, and it had nothing to do with Chicken Spiedini.


As I mature get older, I am learning about the things that positively effect my quality of life. It’s not about the make of my car or the brand of my clothes. At least for me it is all about relationships.

I am blessed beyond measure to be part of a strong, loving and caring family, my wife, my daughters, my grandchildren. They are my foundation, the bedrock of my life.

I am privileged each week to do meaningful work alongside talented and dedicated co-workers. They and our vocations enrich my life in ways I’m sure I don’t truly understand or appreciate.

I am also learning the value of micro-relationships. The brief interactions with the check-out guy at the grocery store, when he notices my t-shirt and a 15 second conversation ensues about a shared interest.
And of course talking books with the hostess at an Italian restaurant.

Peace, Poppy

Thanks Billy for the title and a great song!