My dad is the youngest of ten children. He had five sisters and four brothers. And, to hear my aunts talk about it, while they were still with us, not only was he the baby of the family, but he was babied as well. At least that’s what they said. My dad’s not so sure.
Like many families and kids of the Great Depression they were poor. So were their neighbors. They didn’t have much but, they did have one another.
My grandfather did a lot of different things to try and keep his family having something. Sometimes he was a sharecropper, sometimes he was a horse trader, at the end of his life he was the caretaker at the local cemetery. He always took care not to nick the headstones of the departed with the mower.
I don’t remember my grandfather. He passed away when I was five weeks old. But somehow, though he never had much of anything, he passed along a legacy to my dad that is such a part of the very fabric of people in agriculture, that it almost goes without saying. My grandfather hoped, through his toil, that he would leave his ten children in a little better spot than he had been in when he arrived. Kind of aspirational if nothing else.
Recently, I headed back home to spend some time with my dad and our family. His nieces and nephews wanted to have a get together of sorts with my dad, the lone survivor of the ten. My cousins organized it and it was a small group, but the attendees ranged in age from almost ninety to less than one. Quite a spread that.
After lunch, reminiscing and sharing a good deal of fellowship, we went out to the cemetery to pay our respects to those who had come before. One of my third cousins laid flowers atop the headstones in the same cemetery my grandfather had tended.
When we came to the grave of my grandmother and grandfather, I said a prayer. I thanked them for having given my dad life and, consequently, life to all who were visiting that day.
One thing really struck me as I stood there looking down at the headstone my grandparents shared. As I looked at the dates carved in the gray granite, I realized my grandfather had been born only 31 years after the end of the Civil War. He had surely known veterans of that conflict as he was growing up. Isn’t that something?
And, when I thought of that, it made me think of the importance of legacy. And it made me think of the speech our President had delivered at Gettysburg in the middle of that war. It also made me reflect on the great schism that existed among us Americans at that time in our history and ponder the divisions that exist within our nation today. Kind of aspirational if nothing else.
Gettysburg had been a bloody battle. Tens of thousands had been killed or wounded. It was horrific as all war is. But Lincoln knew that after the war, Americans had to come together again as a people. And he pointed that out.
Everyone recalls the fourscore part, but the next sentence lays out the challenge for us.
“Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation or any nation so conceived and so dedicated can long endure.”
And, at the end, he lays out the legacy.
“…that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain – that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom – and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
Lincoln’s speech that day was special. It is a part of his legacy, and it is only ten sentences long. Lincoln shared in those few words what our nation strives to be and, in my opinion, what our nation can and should be. We don’t need a war to get there.
Every day on every farm and ranch in America, the people who make our country go are building a legacy. It is a legacy to be passed along to the next generation. It is a legacy of hard work, commitment, of love of family and love of country too. It is a legacy of leaving behind a little more than you had when you arrived. Kind of aspirational if nothing else.
I wonder if my grandfather knew.