I remember the strange feeling that the key to the front door was in the hands of strangers. Mom died that year. Dad 10 months prior. The little yellow house in the woods kept the reality of their passing at bay. But when the house went away, so did a piece of the memory. But what about the legacy?
The house had sold. Soon after that moving boxes would stack outside, ready to be sorted. And the new owners would be thinking about what color to paint the walls, adjusting the couch against the front window just so.
There was something about that house that was a lingering reminder of their life. Although I never grew up there — they moved in while I was in college — every trip “home” was to that place. Most of my adult memories of them are under the shake-roofed home.
Set in the woods, just a few blocks away from the Lake they loved, it was nothing fancy. But it was home. Dad’s favorite place was on the back porch, smoking his pipe, cherry tobacco floating through the crisp air. Overlooking the porch was a massive bear, carved from a dead Douglas fir tree that had to be removed. Mom called him Barnabas and had, “Love Bears All” carved into the front side.
She always had mounds of flowers in the backyard, most planted from seed. Mom loved the process of seed pressed to soil brought alive by water and sunshine. I can still see her fussing in the yard with her gloves pulled tight against her hands. She watered them every morning, singing hymns and talking to the blooms in a clear voice of encouragement.
Just before the house sold, I made a visit. I was surprised to see so many of the flowers alive. A long, hot summer with no one to care for them, and they did their best to survive. Some, even flourished. The Forget-Me-Nots craned their blooms to the sun and the daisies shimmied in the breeze to attract a passing bee. I water them and they wave back at me in thanks. “We’re good.”I peek in the windows. The wall where all of the family photos hung is now empty, little nail holes the only visible sign of the generations who have gone on before.
They were married 63 years. Not all of them were easy. There were failures, disappointments, and deceptions. And there joys, victories and miracles. They never quit on each other.
Passing on a legacy
There was really left nothing of any material blessing to pass on. My sister has some memorabilia (She was a saint through the whole process). I have Mom’s jeep with 180K miles on it. Someone in the coroner’s office has her wedding ring (I hope they feel guilty every single day.)
After the funeral and the final bills, there wasn’t much else left. But I’m a rich man. Today I shuffle through photos, trying to refresh the memories that seem to get a little fuzzy.
As I look in the mirror, I realize that I’m now the family’s senior generation and the heavy responsibility of legacy now falls to me and my sister and brother. It’s succession planning, just as it’s always been.
I still don’t feel I’m ready. I don’t have the experience. I don’t have wisdom. I have a few more questions to ask. I can only whisper them in the form of prayers now, hoping the answers somehow work their way into my spirit.
When the doubt creeps in, I think about those resilient flowers. Left on their own, they’re still thriving with no to care for them except the rain and sun from above.
“It’s going to be okay.”