Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Helen on Legacies

My Grandma Lillian (ain't she sweet?) turned 100 the day before Thanksgiving and we rented a room, catered a meal and had a party for her. “Small,” she'd said, “Let’s keep it small.”

She had two kids, my mom and my Uncle Gerald. I think I mentioned in another post a while back that Grandpa Wilbur (don't you love these old names?) died four years ago. He was 97 and they'd just celebrated their 76th wedding anniversary.

Anyway, back to my uncle. He had four girls, who all stayed around the Chicago area, and my mom had four girls and four boys, who are now spread out all over the US of A. My brothers and sisters came from Texas, Oklahoma, Virginia and Pennsylvania and we gathered in for the party near Chicago. There's a bunch of us below.

Many of us have gotten married and had kids of our own and now our kids are having kids. (Not mine, thank you very much. Not yet, at least!) The next picture below is of the great, and great-great grandkids. After that picture was taken, my grandma spread her hands and said, “Am I responsible for all this?”

We laughed, but in truth, she is.

My dad came from a family of ten. I have 42 cousins on his side, my grandparents had 50 grandkids. (Yes, I was raised Catholic, and, no, Grandma Hildegard never remembered my name!) The majority of us have married and had several kids of our own. I can’t even begin to count, and, I know, I’m starting to sound like the Old Testament. So and so begat so and so and so on and so on.

My point is … I never used to look back very much. On the trail I’ve left behind me. Of course there was a time when I didn’t have a lot of “back” to look at, but now I’ve got a bunch. So I’ve given some thought as to whether or not this world is a better place for my having spent time here.

This isn’t just about my kids. They’re great, and if having helped them become healthy and happy adults is all I end up accomplishing in life, then I'd be content. But what about friends, co-workers, fellow writers, acquaintances, the check-out clerk at the grocery store? Are they better off for having met me? Have I given just a little bit back?

With three grandparents that lived into their 90’s and one into his 80’s, chances are I’ve got some time left to make a difference. Then again, I could get hit by a truck tomorrow. So what should I do with the rest of my life? What do I want people to say about me? What is my legacy?

She was a good mother.
She tried her best at being a good wife.
She wrote wonderful books.She was a good friend.
She made a mean batch of chili.
She still had teeth when she died.
Heck, I don't know.

Have you ever thought about what you want the world to say about you?

Oh, and here's Grandma Lillian's secret to a long life. "I guess you just got to keep moving."


lois greiman said...

Life seems complicated sometimes, but I think it's really pretty simple. Bascially I want people to say, "She was an okay egg. I didn't usually want to stick a fork in her eye." Maybe I should reach higher.

Laura Vivanco said...

I hope I've made people think (in a good way, not the 'what a weirdo that woman is' sort of thoughts!).

I hope I've that the number of times I've made people feel good about themselves is higher than the number of times I've upset people.

Betina Krahn said...

Yeah, Helen, I do think about what I want to leave behind when I die. . .

I'd love to have and know my grands (so far, so good!) and maybe great grands someday. I'd love to have produced books that give people joy and hope. I'd love to be remembered as a best-selling (a-hem) author who put her heart into her books. I'd love to someday have descendants read one or more of my old books and say-- "Hey, Great, Great Grandma must have been pretty cool."

What is my legacy? Hmmm. Great question. I hope mine is love. That's my standard. And I know it means that sometimes the things I do confuse people or make them disapprove. . . but I try to lead a "conscious," thinking life and most of my decisions are based on deriving the maximum good and the maximum love for the most people. I want to meet and accept people where they are and love them into an even better place. I want to be a force for good in the world. . . like you, Laura, I want to have caused more good feelings than ill ones.

Thanks, so much Helen for giving us this time to reflect. . . it's precious, especially in this hectic season. And how wonderful to have a grandma so vivid and vital at 100! You've got some great genes in there, girl!

:) Betina

Candace said...

After I'm gone, I'd like people to say "She made a difference."

Helen Brenna said...

Lois, I can honestly say I haven't wanted to stick a fork in your eye. Yet!

Laura, that's a good one, making more people feel good than bad - karma - keep it positive.

Betina, I would love to see you with your grands, as you call them. I bet they LOVE you like crazy. And yeah, now that my book is almost out, I've thought about future generations reading it. Cool stuff!

And Candace, I'd say you've already made a difference. How many people look forward to your holiday dessert party? :) Hope you're feeling better!

Debra Dixon said...

Well, first I want to live to a hundred and look as good as Grandma Lillian.

Second, in a way, (and totally unplanned) part of my legacy has been identified. It's that whole GMC thing. It's an evergreen book for the small press that publishes it. I've lost track of the number of published authors who've come up to me and said, "I'm published because I read your book."

That's cool.

So, is having raised a son who seems to be a leader. He's bright and funny and the center of a group of friends. And his career's on track. They love him. He loves what he does.

That's cool.

I'm afraid to ask for anything more.

But if we're wishing...

When I go, I want standing room only at the service. I want people celebrating my life and the fact that I brought joy to theirs. And I want them fighting over my quilts. Pistols at dawn.

Helen Brenna said...

Deb, your GMC is quite a legacy. You deserve to be proud. And I can attest to you bringing joy into people's lives. You've put more than a few smiles on my face!

Anonymous said...

Congratulations to your grandmother, Helen and to you on having such a great gene pool!
It's funny how much time we spend in life worrying about things that are ultimately so unimportant. I think if you've got people to love, you always try to do the right thing, and you live your life with passion, you've pretty much got it made.


Betina Krahn said...

Nancy, welcome! I've got your book and am devouring it. . . can't wait for tomorrow!

And Candace, I'm so glad to hear you're feeling better. Eileen Dreyer and Karyn Witmer-Gow got me started on "Airborne" when I was in St. Louis in September. It really helps prevent a cold or knock one you already contracted in the head. I'm going to see my kiddos on Thursday and am already guzzling the stuff to prepare for the plane ride! It really seems to help!

:) Betina

Betina Krahn said...

Oh and hey, Helen, I can really see the family resemblance between you and your grandmother! How cool is that?

;) Betina

Helen Brenna said...

Here, here, Nancy on the unimportant stuff. I for one am constantly trying to get things in perspective.

Betina, really? You can see a family resemblance? Ya know, on second thought, I probably have her jaw structure, a little bit on the square side.

She like a little bird though, can't weigh more than 90 lbs, though she can pack away the food when it's good!