Everyone agreed that he was one tough investigative journalist. He didn’t mince words. He told it like it was. He wasn’t afraid to confront any politician or government official that he didn’t think was doing their job. He was fearless, they all agreed. His public persona was one that he liked to sharpen and hone every chance he got. Yep, he certainly was who he was.
When he died, those in the know, those who dealt with him, those who had to work with him day in and day out, they all agreed…that he was a total asshole (their words, not mine). At his wake, few words were minced. Yeah, he was brazen all right, his colleagues agreed. Many said they wished they had his guts, gall, and bravado. Nevertheless, he was still a jerk. Hell of a legacy to leave behind if you ask me.
Then there was a contractor in our community. Many folks claimed he was one of the wealthiest businessmen that no one had ever heard of. At his wake, the consistent message was that he was one tough operator and…that was about it. No mention of any charity work he’d done, no improvements or contributions to his community (it seemed he owned half the place in the beginning), no mention of helping others in need. He just ran his business with an iron fist and made lots of money. Hell of a way to be remembered in the end.
That got me to thinking about my / our respective legacies when the time comes to take a bow and move on to the so-called afterlife.
I grew up without a father or male role model in my life. There was a void of our lives that my Mother chose not to fill with any references or mementos of the man who brought me into this world. So all I have are scratches of tidbits scribbled on a fading memory bank. No good memories, no bad memories, no legacy at all. Nothing of the man who gave me life.
I’ve spoken in the past of my three aunts. From my earliest memories, they seemed like cold indifferent individuals who didn’t particularly care if I existed or not. They really were at the apex of that old time cliché about children ‘better to be seen and not heard.’
|My mother with her parents|
|Horses on my grandparents' farm|
What they were really like in ‘real life’ I have no idea. Their backgrounds were similar to that of my Mothers and it was a tough one. There was little to no appreciation for the value of an education. Collectively, they all seemed to have an attraction to men who didn’t value women and had a problem with the drink. By the time they passed, I was either in the service or far removed from my past life. They all passed on and it mattered little to me. Unfortunately, my memories of them are not good ones. That then is their legacy.
|Erwin holding our son Brian|
My stepfather, Erwin, was a charmer up until the end at age 104. After my mother got ill, we had to place Erwin in a nursing home. He didn’t last long there but his residency was one of mass every morning and sneaking candy into his pew. He loved to sit outdoors and watch the birds and he could still wrangle a card game with the best of them.
My mother only started to slow down near the end of her life and to be honest it was my sister and Sharon who took up the yeoman’s share of caring for her. Marlene and Sharon were saints even when my mother wasn’t. Fortunately, for me my memories began to thin out and dissipate before she got old and ill. I only remember her in fleeting fading glimpses at my past life growing up on Randolph Avenue in Saint Paul. I wish her legacy was clearer than it is. What I remember was good and honest and sincere. She led by example and I became her follower. One could not ask for more.
|Sharon and her parents|
Other folks have told me about the challenges they went through caring for their aging parents until the end. Everyone faces their eminent demise in their own way. Some are grateful for a life well lived. Some are content with their contributions to society. Others are happy with their children and grandchildren. Others wonder if they’ve prayed enough of late to get them reserved seats beyond the pearly gates.
I’m still pondering my legacy. I hope it’s seen in a life well lived. The solid companionship of a wonderful woman and offspring that warm my heart by their very presence.
It certainly won’t be an accumulation of material goods, second homes, or trips traveled. I hope it’s seen in the accomplishments of my children, the growing success of my grandchildren and a couple of books and plays thrown in for good measure.
If leading by example has any value I’d like to believe I paved a way that my kids and grandkids might want to emulate. As for me, the words I don’t ever want to utter are: woulda, coulda, shoulda.