Long After I’m Gone

Grandpa’s rocker, Julie, Tammy, Nancy [left to right]

I have something to tell you that’s hard to admit, and if you know me at all, you know there is a story you’ll have to make your way through before I get to the point, indulge me.

My grandfather was an upholster by trade, he was exceptionally skilled in my mind, owned a little workshop downtown, in Los Gatos, where my Dad called home. The Shop, as it was referred to by the family, was located right behind their home on a quiet side street one block north of Santa Cruz Ave. Along the back fence of their yard was a rickety gate that led to the parking lot of The Shop which I imagine made work-life balance all the more difficult to maintain.

The Shop was old, cement floors, single-pained windows. I imagine it would have been dusty with strong odors of leather, stain, and freshly cut wood. Did he have a radio playing in the background or was that too much of an extravagance? What did my grandfather think about while he worked? Did he draw out his designs before building, or did he dive into a project, adjusting as he went along?

Over the years, just like people, the little shop would take on new personalities, it became a vacuum store, then a health food market, and today I believe it is the location of a fancy nail salon. I like structures and people that provide shelter for whoever might be in need. Don’t you?

Grandpa was adept at making furniture, as a testament to the natural pride he took in his craftsmanship some of his pieces have been passed from generation to generation, and still exist today.

He made a lounge chair for my aunt Neva, it was a cleverly designed rocker, the lines pleasing to the eye, and to this day I can not visualize my aunt without seeing her enveloped in the gentle curves of this chair, as if she were held in her father’s arms.

I didn’t know this man as well as I know his work. I was told his business was never short on jobs and he rarely turned down a charitable project when asked. A beloved family friend, Charlie Cole, once asked him to reupholster an entire bus needed to transport the Barron’s to and from events, this was a high school club to which my Dad belonged. Grandpa didn’t waste time complaining about the extra work or expense, he just applied himself to the project, until it was done.

Grandma also worked in The Shop because my great-grandmother lived with the family and prepared the meals. This allowed Grandma time to keep the ledgers for the business. I imagine she also swept the floors of the shop, greeted customers, maybe helped with the selection of fabrics. Did they labor in companionable silence, tease one another as they applied themselves to their work, or bicker when conflict surfaced?

Grandpa died when I was a baby, just two years after his beloved wife, my grandma, had passed away from a cancer that had metastasized in her spine. This is how disease works, it overcomes our barriers, and then destroys the systems it enters. It’s the same with disordered emotions, attitudes, and substances.

Maybe that’s why people say, “I’m sick of you.”

Be gentle with one another, even when someone is unrepentant, it’s impossible to know the daily battles we are all fighting, maybe it’s better to say, “how can I help or where does it hurt?” Apply pressure, stanch the wound, be a bandaid, not part of the affliction. Honestly, the only pain we can alleviate is to let each other know we’re not alone.

Grandma was in her late 40’s, Grandpa in his early 50’s when they died, and now that I have outlived them both in terms of years. I wonder what I have produced that will survive for decades, that people will look at and see my soul.

My whole life I’ve had this persistent inkling that I am a lot like my grandma. She was the storyteller, a woman who kept a hundred dollar bill in her pocketbook in case one of her four children needed her, she had the means to go. It’s something I’ll never know, only envision, but now I’m wondering if I’m more like my grandpa. He didn’t nail words onto a page, he nailed fabrics, but he was a thinker, constructing what he envisioned with his mind, and essentially this is what I do.

I’ve wondered what it would have been like to have grown up in the shadow of their presence, to have sat and watched grandpa create a piece of furniture that would outlive the hands that built it, to listen at the feet of Grandma to the family stories, to have shared a meal around their family table.

Neither of them made it to the age of retirement and I imagine the shop was left with reams of fabric, scraps of aged leather, old-fashion braiding, brass rivets, nails, various woods, and tools of a carpenters trade.

When I was just a small child, and Grandpa was in the last years of life, he built a small upholstered rocking chair for his grandchildren. I have pictures of Nancy and I sitting in the chair, followed by my own children, and now my grandchildren.

The poor little chair was beginning to wobble and had become quite stained from years of use. So I picked her up in my arms, carried her gently to the car as if a sick child, and drove to an upholstering shop in Campbell to see if she could be repaired. The man held her with such reverence and care looking her over as if he made the piece himself. I told him the story and he said, “we can bring her back to life, let’s go pick out some new fabric.”

He spent a half-hour sorting through rolls of fabric in the back of his shop until I found the perfect one. He beamed his agreement. Refusing a deposit he said he would call when the chair was repaired and ready for pick up. He would take special care to follow the same design as the original, replacing the brass rivets on the arms, repairing the wooden rockers to their former glory.

I was thrilled with the prospect, not the price, but as you know, “you can’t put a price tag on love.”

I tell you this because I’ve been thinking about legacy lately. The things we leave our children in the wake of our lives. Now that I’ve arrived at a certain age, I’m considering how I will be remembered, well past the time of actual impact, but better late than never. The hope is the good outweighs the regrets, as it is with all of life.

I think we all leave something behind when we die, my grandfather left his soul in his furniture, my grandma in her stories, and that hundred dollar bill.

So this is the very belabored point I’ve trying to arrive at, I’m in need of repair, some refurbishing if you will. I need to replace the squatters who have taken up residence in the empty chambers of my heart with life-giving occupants. It’s time to do a little spring cleaning and rid myself of the things that keep me enslaved instead of allowing me the freedom to become the full creation I was intended to be.

Do you ever wonder about the impression you have left on someone? Especially someone you love. Shannon Alder says, carve your name on hearts, not tombstones. A legacy is etched into the minds of others and the stories they share about you.

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel,” says Maya Angelou.

So here’s the thing, I need to update my fabric, bolster my frame, maybe add some new rivets? I want my children and grandchildren to find comfort in my memory, to know they are deeply loved, and when they brush up against me I want the brushing to be life-giving, tangible, unforgettable in every way.

How do you want to be remembered? I’m tossing around what I can do today to create a legacy I’ll be proud of tomorrow. Care to join me?

I’m Living in the Gap, the space can be confining, join me in the comments.

Anecdotes:

  • “Inside of all of us there is the need and the desire to be heard, to have our innermost thoughts, feelings and desires expressed for others to hear, to see and to understand. We all want to matter to someone, to leave a mark. Writers just take those thoughts, feelings and desires and express them in such a way that the reader not only reads them but feels them as well.” V. Vee
  • “Wisdom is skill in living; it is living one’s life so that something of lasting value is produced.” Eric Mason
  • “Within each human being exists a longing to live a life that matters, that makes a difference, that leaves a legacy.” Toni Sorenson
  • “A mother knows that the voice of a child singing is nothing less than the heart of a mother that lost her voice. And so, rather than write such singing off to the ignorance of childhood muse, the wise mother learns to sing again.” Craig D. Lounsbrough
  • “The things you experience are written on your cells as memories and patterns, which are reprinted again on the next generation. And even if you never lift a shovel or plant a cabbage, every day of your life something is written upon you. And when you die, the entirety of that written record returns to the earth. All we have on this earth, all we are, is a record. Maybe the only things that persist are not the evildoers and demons (though, admittedly, they do have a certain longevity) but copies of things. The original has long since passed away from this universe, but on and on we copy.” Madeleine Thien

27 Comments

Leave a Comment

  1. When I made the decision to have no children, I had to face the fact that one day, nobody would be left who remembered me. There would be no fireside chats remembering something funny I said, or something good I had done. I never made anything worth keeping, or did something memorable that was honoured with a plaque or a statue.
    But I am not complaining. I worked hard in jobs that did good things for society, and tried my best to be kind to everyone I ever met. I may have no legacy to leave, but I have already lived that legacy.
    Best wishes, Pete.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Oh my Pete, look at the body of work you have put into the world! Your legacy is well preserved and I imagine many a fireside chats about the prolific Pete Johnson! I was telling someone about your latest series just a few days ago, you are infamous in your own right! And by the way your kindness is an example to us all! Warmly, C

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Thanks, Cheryl. I wonder what will happen to my blog when I am no longer around to pay WP for my ‘Personal Plan’. Will they leave it ‘dormant’, or strip it back to the previous ‘basic’ allowance? If I ever get a bad diagnosis, I will contact them to find out. 🙂 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Awe, thank you Chris. I’ve had these provocative thoughts lingering with me all week, my sweet but very dead grandparents have been hovering in my space, reminding me of that which we leave behind. I’m humbled that it touched your heart, C

      Like

  2. What a wonderful, thought-provoking post Cheryl. Like Pete, I have no children and my husband and I have no family to speak of. After moving from MA to AL a couple of years ago, we don’t really have any friends either, although we get along very well with our neighbors. From a fairly young age it was very important to me to make some positive mark on the world. I think this was in part due to growing up with an abusive mother. One thing that helped me survive were books, where I could escape, meet fascinating friends, and travel all over the world, and sometimes even out of it. During my 26 years as a children’s librarian I tried to pass on my passion to the the children whose lives briefly intersected with mine, especially ones who were obviously hurting in some way. I was told by parents that I made a difference. I’d like to think so.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Kim, I can only imagine how wonderful it would have been as a child to have found someone like you at the local library to help me find authors that would interest me! You must be the inspiration behind thousands of readers today! That’s quite a legacy! And now you inspire thousands today with you blog! You are a change maker in the world and others have learned to be so by watching you! Carry on brave warrior! C

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Cheryl, this is a wonderful reflective piece I love the anecdotes you added at the end. As for being like your grandmother, I think we inherit the DNA to like and do certain things that forebears did, in the case you mentioned, storytelling. But, it also may be passed down lore. When I was looking at Ancestry.com, I was interested to learn that we had several ministers in the family. Was that inherited or passed down lore?

    Our kids watch us more than they listen. They will emulate what we do more so than what we say. So, if they witness storytelling or working at some craft, or treating people with kindness, or serving the environment or a ministry, that gets noted and passed down as lore. But, recently I shared the story of how a nurse went looking for her biological parents for medical history. She learned her bio mother was a nurse and he father was a doctor. The bent to care take of the sick would seem come from DNA, at least in this case. Yet, she may have gleaned it from her adoptive parents.

    So, sorry for the long winded comment. What we do matters, so we should endeavor to do it well to serve others. The kids are watching. Keith

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Keith, thank you, I have more fun with those anecdotes, sometimes they end up embedded in the piece but all can stand on their own.

      I too think we inherit as much as we learn from our environment in matters of interest and occupations but maybe the genre is dictated by our genes like science, math, medicine, ministry, music, athletics, writing, art, etc. There are always the exceptions to the rule!

      What that famous Emerson quote, “who you are speaks so loudly I can’t hear what you’re saying.” I agree my kids mostly ended up emulating my behavior, good and bad, instead of my salient advice. Love the nurse story, I find those coincidences fascinating.

      Love every word of your comment, keep them coming, all my best, C

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Such a lovely post as always!! I totally get what you are saying about whether your life has impacted others (family, friends & strangers). I too have reached that age where I have been thinking about what I’m leaving behind. Have I done anything that has true value and meaning and will stand far beyond my own life? It’s good to think on these things and I have been purposing to “sow” good seed as often as possible. Best wishes and oh yeah, love the little rocking chair!

    Like

    1. Hi Leigh, thank you, these are worthy things to consider as we age. It seems when I was younger I didn’t have the energy or time to consider my impact on others as I was making my way through the world. Reflection is key especially if we are to make an intentional difference in the future. So glad this piece resonated with you, I feel less alone, and somehow encouraged in my journey. All my best, Cheryl

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I think I will remembered the most for always being there. A day doesn’t go by that I don’t hear from at least 3 family or friends. Whether they need help, support or just need to talk I like to be there for them. This is a very deep and thought provoking post that unfortunately we don’t think about until we get older.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I love that Diane, “presence”, it’s such an important aspect of all our relationships. What a testament to why you are so dearly valued and loved by your family, friends, and followers. I have my go to people when I need to talk, these are the people that provide a soft landing when I’m in a total tailspin, and I have to believe you have the ability to soften the impact of life on others. It’s a gift. Thanks for the lovely comment, C

      Like

  6. This one made me cry, Cheryl. Your grandparents sound like salt of the earth and isn’t it possible that you and your work are the ideal amalgam of them both? Most moving for me is that I’m sitting right now in a stunning chair, hand-crafted by my gifted husband, the 60yo grandfather of our 3 very young grandsons. Your lovely, sobering post reminds me (again) of where all of this love and living are headed. In addition to your published book(s) that will sit on the shelves of all of your beloved young ones, your legacy may have to include memories of your beauty, kindness, gifted good humor, dedication, unbridled talent, allegiance to your ancestors and faith in both God and yourself. I hope your Mother’s Day is delightful!

    Like

    1. Mary Ellen, your tears speak volumes about the spaciousness of your heart. I think people who build furniture are exceptionally perceptive, knowing innately what provides rest, comfort, even safety for others. They will never know the enormity of what they do. I love how you name the direction of my thoughts, “where all this love and living are headed.” It seems to me that until we arrive at a “seasoned age” shall we say,where we have created space that didn’t exist in our youth, a space created by grief, tribulation, and maybe even survival that allows for such introspection? It’s a worthy practice especially if we want to be intentional about our future. Thank you for visualizing the books, the aspects of myself, especially the talent I’m still laboring to bring for forth and manifest in the world. Wishing you a most blessed Mother’s Day Mary Ellen, much love, C

      Liked by 1 person

  7. “Legacy” is such a weighty word. I think that it can feel really stressful to try and do things and be the sort of person that is legacy-worthy. Your grandfather was a man of one of the last generations that worked with his hands and truly made things of value to be passed down. I sometimes feel like words are flimsy–but that’s our tool. We’re wordsmiths. And I’m wishing you a good journey on yours!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Rebecca, it is a “weighty word,” legacy, but something that has been consuming my thoughts lately. We all leave our fingerprints on everything we touch in the world but as you say we are wordsmiths and that is our legacy. I do believe words can be as supportive as a beautifully constructed chair, so here’s to our journey into the realm of well constructed words, C

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I used that Maya Angelou quote just today. It’s the fancified version of what my mom always said, “Treat people the way you want to be treated.” I can only hope people remember this about me long after I’m gone.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s