Last December I was blessed with more thoughtful gifts than anyone should hope for, but one of the simplest offerings to the old man was a work book entitled A Father’s Legacy: Your Life Story in Your Own Words by Thomas Nelson. This exercise is intended to force outgoing family members to record their recollections for review by those we leave behind, presumably between games of Angry Birds and Grand Theft Auto on their smart phones. I am enjoying the process of wading through the workbook, but the idea of leaving the end product to a drawer for serendipitous salvage by visiting aliens in the fifth millennium sounds like a waste of time.
A far better bet seems to be turning the legacy listings into a summer pastime for moments when Gramps and Grammar have the privilege of helping the Princes and Princesses of Whales recover from Marco Polo in the pool. The beauty of combining the dry-off time with snacks, sagas and snapshots is that it gives the grandkids the chance to look over the lifetime logs, combined with those old photo albums you’ve never figured out what to do with, and a face-to-face explanation of what the family thing is all about. Smart phones not invited.
Warnings are possibly appropriate. Expect moments of doubt and disbelief, such as when my granddaughter looked at a picture of her granddad on his wedding day and exulted, “That can’t be you, Papa, he’s too handsome.” Please accept apologies in advance from me, since they will not come from the young ones, when you hear phrases like the one from my great nephew who told my sister, “Grandma, this girl in this picture is so skinny. How old are we when we stop growing?” These are the torments we take when we travel the road with our offspring to introduce them to our family traditions. I know this from the man who taught them to me.
Long ago, in a river bend far away, my grandmother’s brother took my twin and me fishing on a regular basis. While I enjoyed the coaching, capture and cooking of our Coho, my real incentive for tagging along was born of my Uncle Charlie’s stories about being orphaned in Owensville, apprenticed in Anderson, Doughboyed in Danville, and settled in South Bend. My uncle’s insights to life, family and business sustained me through times long beyond the Saturdays we spent searching for salmon in Schereville. Stories from the ancient (who, as a twelve-year-old, had raised my grandmother) reminded me that no time during my tenure has been all that tortured.
Uncle Charlie also shared other insights during scarce summer soirées later in my college days that helped direct my life. He opened his planning paperwork to me, and showed me his goals for our family, as well as my role in keeping the secret promises he had made to himself for members of our family. With fingers bent and twisted from almost a century of serving family and nation, he explained what he had designed for the future of his business interests, his land and his name.
“Here’s the baton,” he chuckled, “And now I’m ready to be hauled off to Heaven. Take care of ‘em, Son. I’m counting on you.”
Our own lives may not, thankfully, have been as colorful as my uncle’s, whose episodes still resonate in my memory whenever I read or watch anything about influenza epidemics, Prohibition, or Flanders Field. But whatever our stories may be, and no matter the fruits we have stored away over the decades, we owe it to those who walk beside us on the riverbanks today to formalize the histories and the harvests so that we may, like beloved Charlie, pass the baton.