I loved my great-grandfather. I loved the fact that I had one at all as not many people have the pleasure of living great-grandparents, especially when they are old enough to know them. His house was a Victorian treasure trove full of items that he’d promised would be mine when he was gone. One of them was his piano. I’ve no idea how old it was, or if it was valuable, but it was part of my childhood and I wanted it.
When Gig, as we called him, finally died I was in my early teens and I managed to persuade my reluctant parents to agree that his old piano could come to our house. It would remain there until I flew the nest and then, they insisted, it would fly with me. Clearing Gig’s big house in Portsmouth was both a sad and fascinating affair. He was very eccentric and had enjoyed a full life that included a stint in India as a colonel’s driver. After the war, that’s the Great War of 1914-1918, he had worked as a photographer in Portsmouth until he retired and was a keen amateur watercolorist. His home reflected his life, it was full of artefacts which recorded the passage of time from the 19th century to almost the end of the 20th.
The piano sat in the drawing room, awaiting my collection. My father, my uncle and my eldest brother had joined me one morning ready to load the piano into a waiting van. Unfortunately, when we tried to remove it we discovered the bad news – it had been completely eaten away by woodworm. The piano turned to dust as soon as it was disturbed, leaving a collapsed pile of ivory, strings and ironwork in the dust that had once been solid wood and fine veneers. Worms had stolen my inheritance!
The Le Santos are a durable lot, Gig lasted into his 90s and even then only died as the result of an accident while taking his daily morning six-mile walk. He was in fine health at the time and his death was a shock to us all. His daughter, my grandmother, followed in his footsteps – although without the regular walks! Our dear old Le Santo matriarch lived long enough to be a great-great-grandmother, earning her the title of Triple-G. Much like her father, Triple-G had promised me some of the contents of her home as my inheritance. She finally died at the age of 102. Her secret of longevity appeared not to be regular exercise but instead copious cigarettes, whiskey and plenty of dancing on the tables at family weddings. Yes, she was a real character!
Triple-G had promised me her genuine Art Deco bedroom furniture, originally a wedding gift from her husband’s very wealthy parents many years ago. I had always admired them with their fine oyster veneers and wonderful Art Deco lines. It was with a familiar mixture of sadness and anticipation that I arrived at her home one morning to remove the items to take them back to Le Santo Towers, my Victorian pile in the the ancient City of Lincoln.
Unfortunately history was about to repeat itself. When we started to move the furniture it was clear that those pesky woodworm had beaten us too it again. The stuff was riddled with worm, all still active and apparently voraciously hungry. The furniture had literally been eaten to death and, once disturbed from the positions they had occupied in for decades, everything fell apart in a heart-breaking cloud of dust. Worms had once again eaten my inheritance!
It seems I am cursed to surrender my precious family heirlooms to woodworm. If this story has a moral it is either that you can’t count on anything in life or that you ought to get your relatives to engage professional pest control to preserve your inheritance. This is especially important if, like me, your ancestors seem able to easily survive their allotted four score and ten years on this earth. Woodworm can do a lot of damage when given so much time for lunch!
Written by Glenn Le Santo, journalist, social media guru and live event reporter.