I like Saturday morning sunlight better than week day sunlight. You see, I used to spend Friday nights at my Grandparent’s camp. I remember every Saturday I would wake up and savor for just a few moments the yellow light that poured through the chintz curtains onto the bedspreads around me.
Saturday mornings were always the same. Eggs and toast with orange juice followed by grocery shopping and a historic tour of Athol MA.
On those morning drives I wrote my first poetry and I memorized the locations of Sentinel Elm, and the homesteads of the Tandys, and the Lillies. I saw almost weekly the three houses my great- great-grandfather built for his daughters and sister. I can still point out the cellar hole of the house my great-grandmother burned down while drying her sons’ clothing over the wood stove.
On certain special Saturdays my grandparents would take a little longer to complete my education. On those Saturdays Grampa would skip his candlepin bowling and we would make the drive to Erving Where the “first Joseph” was buried.
I can still hear Gramp’s gravelly voice litanizing our family history. “You are Joseph Elon Lillie V but we call you the III because your mother didn’t want you to be likened to whiskey…The first Joseph was a wood cutter…father Caleb Elon… his father Caleb senior…all the way back to the revolution…Joseph’s mother-in-law was Susannah Clark they called her “Little Grandmother”…Shay’s rebellion.”
At least that’s the way I heard it as I phased in and out of consciousness without my grandparents even knowing.
I didn’t realize it at the time but Gram and Gramps were training me for a job that would become mine in the fullness of time. When they passed, watching over the family grave markers fell to my Aunt Joan and Uncle Walt. Now that they have moved to Seattle to live with their kids I may be the only Lillie who remembers where everyone is!
This year I took my sister with me to check on the graves. We didn’t stay long. Talking to the dead isn’t our thing (at least not since we came to Jesus) but that really wasn’t the point. I wasn’t there to grieve. I went to make sure the markers still stood, could still be read, to show that the lives they represented still mattered.
Maybe it’s because I am now on the edge of that phase called middle age, maybe it’s because all my kids are grown and out of the house but I find myself wanting to make things count more than ever. I don’t want to get to the end of my life and say “Well that was certainly a waste!”
My desire to leave a legacy that matters got me thinking about what those who went before left to me:
As I stood before my father’s marker I could still hear him chiding me “Don’t tell me what you think I want to hear. Give me an answer you can live with.”
What can I live with? I feel like I am just learning the answer to that now twenty years after his death.
As I visited the cemeteries this year I realized that these people effected who I am, some of them without ever knowing me. One of them spoke a name that would echo down the generations to their grandson’s grandson. A “little grandmother” lost somewhere in the folds of history has birthed a family that stands for freedom and personal responsibility. Gosh, a couple of these folks have even influenced the way I look at sunlight. They mattered…at least if my life does!
What will the markers I leave behind matter to those who come after? I want to be more than a potted geranium some grandson I never know buys at his generation’s version of Wal-Mart.
I’ve been thinking about what I want on my tombstone should Jesus tarry (the way things look that ain’t likely but just say I get hit by a bus or something). I think I want people to say of me “He was someone who really knew how to love. Not the gushy, fake, T.V. romance, messed up love but the real Jesus type of love.”
I want them to write this in the dash between my years.
I want people to say “He did it. so can I!”
As I stood at the graves of my ancestors I realized it’s not the size of the rock that matters but the making of the marker that can only be done by the living of a life.
I am writing my gravestone as I live each day not so that people will come and leave me pretty plants but so that lives that come behind mine will be changed.
What legacy are you choosing to leave?