November 8, 2013
This summer I embarked on a project for my family I had been anticipating for 15 years. The time had come to assume stewardship of a 40-acre farm that has been in my family for nearly 100 years. What I did not foresee is the amazing legacy it would introduce me to and meld into my soul.
The farm includes three vintage cars, two barns, three out buildings, and a house that had been hoarded for 14 years by my grieving great-aunt. There are no words to explain the multitude of personal items, clothing, paperwork, farm tools, pictures, and trash that needed to be handled. It was my task to sort through the relics and remnants of seven people’s lives bearing witness to it all.
Discovering and handling the personal items of my ancestors was a daunting task for me. I wanted their lives to be recognized and valued. This was not just ‘stuff’. These were things they purchased or made, used every day, and valued enough to keep. As I worked, I sought to understand them more deeply and all they have passed on to me.
Spending time on the farm for weeks over the summer took me back in time. I felt out of touch with my history and realized how much I didn’t know. My family was never one to talk much about the past and I wished I had asked more questions about their lives, routines, and how they lived. Now there is no one to answer the hundreds of questions I have in my heart.
Magic was in the air as I opened well-packed trunks and went into locked out buildings touching things no one had seen since they were stored 50 years ago. Some questions were answered by paying attention to details, reading letters, and even noting dates on the newspaper breakable items were wrapped in. A story was piecing together one discovery at a time.
Each tool, mixing bowl, letter, and picture revealed the qualities they embodied and valued. Hard work, love of land, irrepressible spirit, spunk and sass are some of the qualities that were obvious. Farming was their life. Gardening, raising cattle and other livestock, and making by hand anything that was needed shaped their days and nights. Everything I found told a story to me about who they were, how they worked and lived.
An especially exciting discovery was finding my great-grandmothers’ well-worn revolver and pistol. This brought to my attention how challenging her life must have been at times. Living on a farm, caring for four children, and her husband, whom was bed ridden for the last 10 years of his life, along with the livestock. Turning these pieces over in my hands, I longed to know when and how she used these guns. Did she shoot at fox when they threatened her chickens and turkeys? Did she brandish her weapon as a warning to defend her property? Did she have to euthanize animals when they fell ill or injured? A strong, determined and capable woman was revealed to me.
Life is much richer now for having discovered these treasures and spent time on our land. My perspective of the world and myself are forever changed. There is also a new priority of passing on this legacy to my daughters. Even though I cannot be certain which stories and treasures will be meaningful to them in the long run, I believe it is my job as a mother to share things with them, the stories behind them, and how they came to be ours. They may seem disinterested at times, and still I share because my heart knows how important this legacy is for them.
I am also realizing and valuing the legacy I am establishing in our current lives. As I walk through our home, I wonder what things will mean the most to them someday. Maybe the wood table we have been dining at for years. Maybe the ring I wear everyday that represents the three of us. Maybe a small rocker by the front door where I always put my purse when I come home. It adds meaning to my life to see now what I will passing on in the future.
I share this to encourage you to look at your life and consider what legacy are you creating and sharing. Your legacy will include things, stories, and qualities. Simple things such as the basket you take to the grocery store or the earrings you wear most of the time could be amazing treasures one day.
There are also stories to be shared. Do you take time to share about your childhood? Or what you know about the generations that came before you? If you have the opportunity, taking time to ask elders in the company of your children about their lives is something not to be missed. Our children have no way to understand the history of how things were unless we tell them. A life before cell phones and the internet has a richness that begs to be passed on so it is not forgotten.
You also create legacy with the way you live your life. How you tackle the hard times, create family traditions, and care for those you love are some of things you will be remembered for one day. It is how we walk in this life that our children will recollect. This hopefully compels us to walk with an authenticity that speaks to who we are in this life.
Each day that passes contributes to legacy. Life may be richer when we see how we are living lives that will one day be a treasured past. It is the mundane we grow blind to in our day-to-day living that shapes what will be remembered the most. Live well, recollect, and pass it on.