It’s strange to think that I have had a million thoughts endlessly provoking me for months, which prompted me to write “Mediations” just to get them out of my head, and now, with a few posts under my belt, I’ve got nothing. NOTHING! And so, I go back to a basic fundamental principal of writing and begin just writing something…anything. Free form, I believe, is the technical term. It’s not working.
And then, my eldest daughter of fourteen walked in the door and, without a word, reminded me about legacy. You see, she is preparing to go to prom. I’m not ready. How on earth did she grow up so fast? It seems as if it were just yesterday I was putting frilly bonnets upon her head or that, when I tucked her in for the night, she told me all of her “secrets” for the day. I am no longer privy to these things, but they were tender and sweet moments I cherish, especially when she still looks at me with those same eyes every now and again.
It was this strong emotion and difficulty in realizing that I must, for now, let that little girl go and embrace the strong, independent woman she is becoming that reminded me of a conversation I once had with someone else very close to me about legacy, what it means to me and how it relates right back to my children—all of them (I have three).
Presently, the simplest, most watered down definition of the term legacy relates to a monetary gift or bequest of personal property or something that someone, from the past, left behind or some action they committed. In my mind the two differentiations are quite similar; however, it doesn’t compel me to look deeper into their differences or discuss their similarities because, frankly, the latter is more in line with my thought in this regard, mainly because this is how we, as a society, seem to define it; usually, on a grander scale, however.
Most of us, including me, will never do anything so great as to leave a large enough legacy behind for anyone to stand up and take notice. But, sometimes, it’s as simple and naked as an unvarnished rocking chair—my great-grandmother’s for example.
My mother rocked me in it as a baby, I climbed on it, and played with it (dolls often were given time outs in it, especially from my little sister who often told them to “sit up correctly”). It was solid wood with extremely warn varnish and made a soft, quiet, and soothing creak as it rocked. The arms were so loose they often came unhinged. And, it wasn’t particularly comfortable to sit in for long periods of time. The chair was taken apart, sanded down, fixed and stained a much prettier, darker, cherry color at some point and eventually was passed down to me. I rocked my first child in it until it rocked no more. Five generations connected by one chair until we finally had to put it out of its misery.
On a broader scale, the legacy of our great-grandparents wasn’t just in a chair or some piece of furniture they passed down, it was in the actions they took in everyday life that, as a consequence, gave us a life free from the tedious labor they endured with little to no complaint (so I’m told—I surely don’t know this firsthand).
They were immigrants who started their lives in this country as pioneers and then farmers, many of the wives were teachers, and, in some cases, others later became merchants. As the generations matured, we became political scientists, lawyers, professors, and even politicians. Further up the line we became activists, designers, musicians, writers and yet, still more teachers. But, I, and plenty of our generation, never had to work nearly as hard, learn the difference in various chemicals to combat rampant weeds or plant, plow and harvest a field, or in the case of one set of my great-grand parents, light up and watch a cash crop burn.
Don’t get me wrong. I am NOT saying there is anything wrong with being a farmer. It is good, honest, hard work, even more so now with the whole “farm to fork” movement (in my humble opinion). What I am saying is that I am grateful for the ones who came before me who worked the land and taught the children who left a legacy profound enough that I do not have to do physical labor. Because, frankly, I am not built for or cut out to do hard, physical labor. The point being that even in the smallest advancement of future generations a legacy if left behind, whether good or bad, even if we are not the Martin Luther Kings of the world and whether or not we actively choose to acknowledge it—it’s there and their existence is evidenced in any progressive succession we make.
I often wonder, however, if it was what they intended all along, or whether they just did what they had to do in that moment and era to survive in that instant that indirectly and consequentially contributed to forward progression, or at the very least provided more options to choose from for the next generation? Did they have time to ponder—to dream—where their children or their children’s children would end up over a choice made twenty, thirty, or fifty or more years ago?
My quest for leaving some type of legacy has been met with intent purpose since I was quite young. It began in my early teens and I suspect was the product of having dealt with death and dying. But, as in Jerry McGuire, “let’s not tell each other our sad stories.” At about the same age my eldest daughter is now, I became very interested in who my parents were when they were “young,” because, let’s face it, when you’re a kid, your parents are always old, that is until you look back at their lives and see photographs of their past. In addition to seeing photographs, I also wanted to hear stories about the things they did (i.e. how they got into trouble) and what they imagined.
Knowing I was interested in such things, even at such a young age, I figured that someday my own children would be curious about my life and so I began collecting evidence of and chronicling my youth in photographs. I even have a few pieces of clothing from the past that I now wonder why I bothered to hold on to—they are no longer fashionable and aren’t even retro chic, they’re just old, and are collecting dust, but, once again, as is customary with me, I digress.
As I matured and began to have children of my own, legacy began to morph a bit. Rather than just having tangible evidence preserving my youth, it became more about building character (including my own), providing a better life for them and sharing whatever wisdom I had gained so they could be better people and live a better life than I. It, of course, was also a little bit about leaving some type of bequest or personal property. That is, a decent piece of real estate they can live in (something with character, and a freaken built-in-buffet okay!), to take care of and enjoy free and clear (that is, to essentially live rent free) and to pass it on down the line (we’ll see how far we get—this is getting harder and harder to come by these days).
Ultimately, it is in the actions taken to preserve such a gift that your legacy is born and it is preserved in the stories that are told because, while you will eventually be dead and gone, your spirit will live on in those tales shared within the confines of those walls or about that one tangible piece of something that holds a memory for someone.
While I am certainly no saint and have nothing particularly great or profound to offer this world on a grander scale, I will leave this existence one day knowing that what little I could do with the cards life has dealt me was met with a greater purpose and intent—for my children (and maybe a scandalous-type tale or two to tell to the grandkids one day).
There you have it—my take on legacy, a piece of it anyway. Sleep tight.