John Deering didn’t leave any writing or diaries behind, so we don’t know much about his personal life. What we do know is shown through the things that he left behind- letters, bourbon, cigarettes. We know him by the objects surrounding him. It is estimated that this businessman’s palace, named “Vizcaya” in today’s dollar amount cost well over $60 million dollars to build. We visited with a sense of awe, the opulence and money spilling everywhere. But it was so open and vacant to me, and sad. Have you ever been to a gorgeous place only to feel its loneliness? It is led astray, tired and worn. You feel worn. The sun seemed more beautiful to me than the more ornate of the one million bedrooms. My screaming and fighting children seemed more precious to me than the thousands of square feet and miles of Biscayne Bay which the house buttressed against.
And I thought, how sad. Nothing left behind but walls. But then I thought about what would be in the box I left behind. Maybe not encased in glass. Maybe not bourbon. But what would be in my box?
A favorite mug and a picture of my grandmother, my rosary, my tabbed bible, a collection of a variety of books and lots and lots of journals. My thoughts, His words, the one I loved the most, the one I lost, the one I prayed and lots and lots of words. It was a beautiful, eclectic mix to me. I wanted to run and throw all those things in a box just to look at them. But then all I had to do was look around my small and loving bedroom and see them all.
I don’t know if John Deering knew Jesus, does it really matter? He had more money than God and a one billion square foot house with an endless garden, but all I remember is that tiny glass encased box by one of the many bedrooms, with that tiny, unnoticeable sign. Not gold or pictures or books. I remember only the cigarettes and bourbon, with his initials on the filter, JD. That’s what he did with his money, put his initials on cigarettes. That was the box I remembered.
I am thankful he left the estate behind. I am thankful I was able to experience its richness and spiral staircases. I loved running through the miles of gardens with the children, and the exquisite view of Biscayne Bay. But I will never forget the experience of sadness I felt for him, how the richest house seemed so small, how his life to me was locked up in a small glass box filled with bourbon and filter initialized cigarettes, box of 50.