When I was growing up I had little idea of what was meant by the word, ‘legacy.’ I was aware that it was something like a summary of history relating to a person or group of people. Hey, that didn’t matter much to me, after all, I was young and had years ahead of me. Besides, I wasn’t Daniel Boone, Tom Jefferson, or George Washington. Over time I can say that legacy is more important than I might have believed as a child. Thinking that it meant a summary of characteristics that explained how a person or group of persons thought, behaved, and passed on to the next generation. It goes too far when it paints the subject as infallible. Also, some beliefs and behaviors are often built on wrong conclusions and self-interests. Rarely does this situation win acclaim, but we have seen plenty of examples where even the wrong are seen as heroes. The fact is that most people are made up of both good and bad. While it is true that some cause tremendous suffering, others inspire others to leadership and acts of kindness and mercy.
As the writer of this column, I have heard from a number of readers who were grateful for the positive memories of the men and women who were influential in their young lives. Sadly, some have written about the hurt and pain inflicted that in some cases was crippling. Often caused by substance abuse, drinking, ignorance, or hatred many want to forget the past. Indeed, most of us have events we’d like to forget. Some of us feel remorse for some things we did in the past, but the bottom line is we can do little to change the past; only how we deal with it.
One way is to learn the power of forgiveness. We do not have to condone the act(s) themselves, but we can determine to do better. We can seek to fix what we’ve broken or at least break nothing else. The first thing is to understand that we are human, and sadly, often show poor judgement. We must vow to learn from mistakes and live a life that makes a difference to others. In the movie “Little Lord Fauntleroy,” I remember an actress reminded her son that in the end, the world should be a better place because he lived. I wish I had learned that when I was young.
Louisa has every right to celebrate its historical figures, most taking residence on Pine Hill, overlooking our little town. At the top of the list of people I know of having an outstanding legacy is Fred M. Vinson, the Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court. I saw him in person a few times and in newsreels a number of times. Frankly, those are pretty hazy memories from so very long ago.
I have stronger memories of people I really knew and respected. The top of that list is William A. Cheek, our Superintendent of Schools during all my school years. He and his family lived in a house on Lock Avenue just across the street from the old high school. He also attended my church downtown and was the adult Sunday school teacher. In those days he was able to see to it that his charges were exposed to some Christian-based teaching and some wonderful movies including the Ten Commandments. He let me ride with him in his red jeep to some of the schools out in the county to deliver various food related items. I also delivered food for the football camps and band camps at Cabwaylingo.
Because I didn’t have a father in my house when I was growing up, I looked to both William Elkins, Sr., and Eddie Boggs as surrogate ‘father-figures.’ I was around Eddie a lot more and treasured his careful coaching and teaching during all my school years. Eddie was very special to me, and more so I’m sure to his family. I so enjoyed talking with him the last time I saw him. I was warned that because of an automobile accident he might not know me, but he had me figured out almost at once without any prompting. We all were so glad to see each other, recalling the past and laughing over some of my escapades as a youth.
I remember two Bradly brothers who ran groceries, and several who worked with them to support their customers. Two Wright brothers had a jewelry store downtown and were favorites of mine because they treated me as a friend and always smiled.
I remember Ed Land that ran the little sundry store where I bought mom’s cards and gifts. I remember Bernard Nelson when he was a policeman and watching over the crowds at Friday night football games. I remember Frank Webster a government teacher and Bascomb Boyd, the King of Arithmetic. James Cheek was principal pretty good with the ‘board of education,’ if you know what I mean. I have little Andy York on my list who ran a small grocery on Lock Avenue and Sycamore. I loved visiting him and buying a slice or two of cold cuts.
I remember a line of preachers, some of them favorites that taught the gospel and often filled in with the school system. They visited the sick, visited the incarcerated, performed weddings and funerals, and somehow were involved in every major town event. Each week they prepared a message and found time to hold revivals from time to time. I began to understand the ‘good news,’ but sadly found ways to misbehave. When I changed my life changed. Life isn’t perfect, but I am blessed nonetheless.
I especially remember my classmates. All were liked and were good friends. Some I was very close to for a number of years. My best friends, Johnnie Bill Boggs, and Billy Elkins, Jr. topped my list like Creep Chandler, Harry Richard Cyrus, Jimmy Mullins, Joan Carol Baily, Betty Hager Mead, Sandra Adams, Tennie VanHoose, Kaye Buskirk, Carolyn Kelly, and many from the classes before and after ours. I consider them all to be fine people who were very worthwhile to know and care about. I miss those days and those people, but it is what it is. Change happens; we grow older and some of us move and disappear or become out of touch. Some pass away.
So what shall we say is our legacy? We can leave whatever material goods we may accumulate, and we can instruct those prodigies in righteous living. We can encourage them and let the following generations know they are loved, respected, and important. We can demonstrate our faith and our beliefs by living our life before them. We can stop and think when our blood boils, because words said in anger are hurtful and destructive. We can be true to our children and friends. We can also be kind in our business dealings and make good judgements, especially regarding coworkers, and customers.
I feel I have been blessed in my family, my work, my friends, and even you, a reader. I am not without fault and hardly worthy of any admiration, but I have loved. I have seen too much, and struggled long and hard. I have seen too much pain in others and a bunch of my own making. I hope I leave a pleasant memory or two to family and friends when I pass on, but frankly, none will tell the whole story and for that I am grateful.
Legacies, in the end are not really something we can design on our own. Life happens. Some things go well, other things don’t, but what others think of you can change even after you are gone. So maybe what we need to understand it is how we live life on a day to day basis that really matters. The good we model hopefully will help others. Helping others and being kind every day, in spite of the things life brings is better than trying to shape our legacy. We may be dull humans, but against the darkness of this world we can shine like a star. The people I remember have done exactly that.
Instead of legacies, we can focus on others instead of our self. In the end we will return to dust, but maybe live on through the blessing we’ve given others. After all, life is in the control of someone who knows us and in spite of our mistakes, loves us anyway. firstname.lastname@example.org