Examples of What to Say
Even small children love to hear simple stories about their ancestors, and as children grow into teenagers and then young adults the stories can become more complex and serious. For example, consider Great-Grandpa Henry Knox’s many shortcomings as a rancher. Or the general klutziness of the Knox men, who are disposed to walk around with their minds on some piece of machinery instead of watching where they’re going. Here are two stories suitable even for young children:
The Old Cow Story. One day, when Great-Grandpa was about 11, his father heard a loud ruckus out behind the ranch house and went out on the back porch to investigate. He was astounded to see young Henry being chased across a field by an old cow. That old cow had never encountered a human being who was afraid of her, and she was having the time of her life chasing Henry in circles. Great-Great-Grandpa Knox laughed so hard he fell down the back steps and broke his arm.
How Great-Grandpa met Great-Grandma. One nice spring day, a few years after Great-Grandpa Henry had joined the struggling firm of L&M Building Parts Company, he was strolling along the sidewalk thinking about a hinky extrusion machine. He wasn’t paying attention to where he was going and ran headlong into a girl carrying a sack of groceries. The sack split and the groceries went everywhere.
Horrified, Henry began gathering up the groceries, but it was clear that without a sack the girl couldn’t carry everything. Henry therefore took as many groceries as he could and walked the girl home. Along the way the girl, whose name was Essie Nowicki, kidded Henry unmercifully for not watching where he was going, for having his mind everywhere except where it should be, for being a general klutz. Poor Henry, not being accustomed to being in the presence of a pretty girl, could barely stammer out his name.
But as the days went by, Henry came to his senses. He put on his best suit, slicked down his unruly hair, climbed Essie’s stoop and knocked on her door. The door was opened by a human giant—this was Great-Great-Grandpa Ernest Nowicki. Great-Great Grandpa glared down at Henry and bellowed, ‘What the hell do you want?” Poor Henry staggered backwards, fell off the stoop and cracked his head open.
Stories for older kids can be more complex and less centered around humor. Consider this Knox family story:
The Romeo and Juliet Story. As noted last week, A. Reed Fabricating, Inc. failed to prosper for the better part of a decade, but finally achieved success. During the rough years Messrs. Reed and Knox cooperated, but when the good times finally rolled around their relationship began to fray. It irked Henry Knox no end that he was slaving away at the factory seven days a week while Albert Reed sat in his cozy office at the bank and looked on. Meanwhile, Reed owned 51% of the company and had his name on the door.
Unsurprisingly, Albert Reed saw the matter differently. He was the one who’d invested serious capital in a bankrupt company, taking an extraordinary risk, and for nearly 10 years he’d had no return at all on that capital. Eventually, Reed and Knox stopped speaking to each other and refused even to appear in the same room together.
Soon it seemed as though everyone in Lincoln, Nebraska had taken sides in the dispute, backing either banker Reed or worker Knox. No one, it seemed, was neutral. In fact, however, there were at least two neutral observers of the spat: Mrs. Knox and Mrs. Reed. The two women had grown close during the years of struggle, and they’d stayed close notwithstanding the acrimony between their husbands.
On Sunday afternoons the women would get together for coffee and talk about what nitwits their husbands were. When Mrs. Knox went over to the Reed home she would often bring along her son, Henry, Jr., known as Hank. When Mrs. Reed came to the Knox home she would often bring her daughter, Sally. Wouldn’t you know that Hank and Sally eventually fell in love and married, over the vigorous objection of both fathers—but with the enthusiastic blessing of both mothers.
The marriage represented the union of two young people, of course, but it was also a kind of corporate merger, unifying the formerly opposed houses of Reed and Knox. For many years after Hank Knox became CEO of A. Reed, every important corporate document was signed by both Henry, representing the Knoxes, and Sally, representing the Reeds, leaving no doubt that the families were now unified.
One final story: The Story of the Mysterious Caller. One morning, after Hank Knox had been CEO for many years, Hank was pacing back and forth across his modest office, which looked out over the factory floor. A. Reed Fabricating had been experiencing quality issues in the piecing shop, and Hank, despite being nearly 70, was deep in thought trying to figure out a way to blend the welding, adhesive binding, riveting and crimping processes. He was finally getting somewhere when his thoughts were interrupted by the telephone. “Damn!” he cursed, reaching for the infernal instrument.
Distracted as he was, it took some minutes for Hank to understand that the caller wished to buy his company. “We’re not for sale!” Hank roared. Undaunted, the caller merely asked if Hank would call him back if he changed his mind. Hank hurriedly scratched the man’s name and number on a piece of scrap paper, which he promptly lost. It was only years later that the family found out who the mystery caller was: Warren Buffett.
And on that note, I will stop talking about “the talk.”