Memories and legacies quietly shape our lives

Monday, December 22, 2008 | 10:00 a.m. CST

Just like presidents, we all have legacies to hand down.

I don't suppose my grandfather, who was a carpenter, considered himself as building his legacy when he custom-fitted my brother's little wheelbarrow and toolbox to suit his 9-year-old body. But 40 years later, my brother was setting up his son's junior-sized workbench in his basement workshop next to his own. As rudimentary as it may have been, this legacy of passing down the skills from one generation to another has continued in my family for many years.

There's something deliciously satisfying in thinking back through the years and remembering how things came to be the way they are. I once owned a dress shop where I designed and sold clothes. My mother taught me to sew on her mother's old treadle sewing machine when I was a little girl. I never planned to be a seamstress, but I was out of work that year and so I moved into the role quite easily.

My son's father injured his back when he was a boy delivering heavy city newspapers. So, when my son decided to earn extra money, he went out and found customers who were non-subscribers and established a small route that he could handle safely on his own.

Legacies come in all sizes. I think from the moment one gains the maturity to understand that everything we do in life matters, one begins the journey of being extremely careful about the way in which you live your life. From that moment on, you realize that each and every day, you are writing your own history. This is how your family, your friends and your community will remember you.

Some lives are defined by the way people have learned to handle difficulties. They seem to have a knack for turning defeats into triumphs and for transforming dire situations into opportunities. For others, their generous nature, their sharp intellect or their deep compassion is the guiding force in shaping their life story.

Teachers often leave large legacies. Most of us have fond memories of our favorite teachers well into adulthood. My favorite was my sophomore English teacher. His assignments always required us to spend long sessions in the library, which I found delightful. We also had to memorize a poem each month. I can still recite most of them today.

There will always be a warm spot in my heart for all the people who positively influenced my life. Many of them were just everyday people who had no special claim to fame. When I was growing up, there was a woman in my neighborhood who I thought made the best peanut butter cookies in the world. Whenever she made a fresh batch, she would be waiting at her window for us to come home from school and summon us in her house for special treats. She had no children of her own, so, she sort of adopted us. Sometimes she served tea with the cookies and would have the table set prettily for little tea parties. Her simple acts of graciousness made a lasting impression on me.

My mother had a life-long friend with whom we used to visit. She had the kind of calm, serene nature that made her home so comfortable and inviting that, as soon as we stepped inside, we felt as if we had snuggled under a warm blanket. She would read to us in such a soft gentle voice that we hardly wanted to breathe for fear we would break the spell.

I doubt these people had any idea of the kind of story their lives were telling. But they spoke to me of virtues and certain qualities of life that characterize people who are so comfortable in their own skin that the gift of their presence brings the pure and unadulterated joy of quiet beauty to others.

I believe one of the greatest pleasures we experience is gaining the acquaintance of another human being who adds new dimensions to our lives — the thrill we feel deep inside in the knowledge that we have become a better person because we discovered them along the way.

The special people who have become a part of my life and shared their legacies with me are among my many blessings. Some of them I have known all my life. Others are individuals I have known only a short time. They have all enriched my story.

May your holidays be rich with peace and joy and the companionship of those you love.

You can join the conversation with Rose M. Nolen by calling her at 882-5734 or e-mailing her at

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