Sunday, December 30, 2012

Our Legacy

"I like playing music, it makes me feel relevant, like I matter".  My dad spoke these words to me when I thanked him for playing on my birthday, he on his guitar and me on my new cajon.  I haven't been able to get them out of my head ever since.  My dad was a full time entertainer in my early years, so listening to him play is as comfortable a feeling as I know.   Eventually he moved on to writing and became a successful journalist, but I don't think I fully understood how much music meant to him until he said those words.  It's his legacy.  We all want to feel like we have an impact while we're living, and especially after we're gone.

This Christmas has been a time of reflection for me.  A reflection on legacy, of people that have passed, and what it means to be amongst others and have an impact.  My mother's memory has weighed heavily on my mind as this year marks a milestone for me:  She has been gone for as long as I knew her (21 years).  I've done the math in my head for several years and knew it was coming, but I was always able to banish it to the hinterlands of my mind because it hadn't arrived yet.  This year it smacked me square in the face and reminded me how relentless the march of time is.  Surprisingly, it had a positive effect on me.

My mom loved Christmas and the most tangible artifact we have are her ornaments .  Some were hand-made made and others had been in the family for years.  All of them were an integral part of our Christmas trees as kids and after she died it was difficult to see them.  My sister had them for awhile and then she gave them to Nikki and I.  We've had them on our trees since 1995.  I felt a strong desire to document them before they disintegrated or were damaged.  I made a photo book and gave copies to my dad and sister.  We looked through the book and cried a lot, but it was positive.   The amount of time that had passed healed the hurt enough. I felt like it was the first time we could openly discuss her memory and talk about the the things she loved.  Before, we simply couldn't speak about it. We talked about her love of Christmas and the things we remember about her.  We talked about her legacy.  She was incredibly strong, loving, generous, and loyal.  I don't think I realized the depth of her strength until recently.  Time gives you that perspective.
A hand-made ornament from my mom

A family favorite, it's been around for at least 40 years.

My grandma Pacheco was able to visit us again this Christmas.  I've written about her before here. When I dropped her off at the train station I couldn't resist taking the shot below.  She needs assistance now, but she remains extremely tough.  She's 87 and she hopped on a train by herself from Grand Junction, Colorado and rode 22 hours to see us.   She lived through the depression, then WWII, then forged a life after that and raised three kids.  I fear we Americans aren't as tough anymore.  I suppose the times dictate much of that, and we don't struggle for anything now.  She's tough and she has a tremendous work ethic and she has character.  That's her legacy.

Before she left she gave me one of my grandfather's pocket knives.  She estimates he got it in the 1970's and carried it with him every day until he died.  It's scratched, rusted, and weathered, and it's perfect.  I'll keep it in a safe place and look at it from time to time to think about the legacy of the man who owned it.  He fought in WWII aboard the USS Oakland.  He was a part of the "Greatest Generation".  He was strong, patriotic, funny, and he had an incredible work ethic that puts me to shame. That's his legacy.

And so we arrive at the obvious question:  What is my legacy?  The troubling fact is that I don't know what it is.  I don't have kids, so there's no obvious answer in that regard.  Perhaps that is for other people to decide.  I know for sure, though, that my parents legacy lives on through me.  The person I am and the things I love came from them.  I feel them every day in the decisions I make and the way I interact with people.  My mom's strength is always with me, and although he doesn't play music as much, my dad's song still plays in my head every day.  It's important he knows he's still relevant in this man's eyes.