Tuesday, March 10, 2009


I have had a number of friends suggest recently that I should write a blog.  After a bit of "hemming and hawing", I am finally at the place to start.  While I am sure that the topics will expand over time, I am going to start with a focus on lessons of life, leadership, wine, food, family stories and the spaces in between. Over the past few years, I have been thinking a lot of the idea of "Legacy" thus the title of this blog.  This idea of focusing on what we are leaving behind in this journey called "life"continues to come up as an important idea, whether in the context of a family, a work environment, a social group, what have you.  

The following story comes from a little book that I wrote a few years ago with a dear friend David Crafts.  Sadly, David passed away soon after the book was published which put this idea of "Legacy" and the following story into sharp focus.Hopefully the stories and ideas that I share hear will provoke some thoughts and responses and I am eager to have them as part of this blog.  Regardless of age or experience, no one is too old to learn, to grow, to see new insights and I am hopeful that this blog will foster growth in the writer and reader alike. 


 The story goes…in the summer of 1998, my grandmother—Lakie Pearl Hill—became aware that she was about to die. Lakie was born in April of 1901, and she lived for 45 or 50 years on her own in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia in a little house on 16 Mill Hill Drive. She lived on a C&O Railroad pension. I never knew she didn’t have very much. I just knew she was the wisest person in my life. And she was a rascal—the 11th of 13 children of William Bryson Hill…(my son Bryson is named after him.) He was a vagabond, a frontier scout, a silver miner, and a Postmaster. He was a kind of outdoorsman—a trailblazer. But Ma Ma, as she was known by all the family members, was 97 years old and she knew she was not long to live. My son Bryson had just been born, and we as a family went to go to see her—because she wanted to see everybody before she passed. It was a powerful experience—the only time in my life that I’ve been with someone aware of and reconciled to die. A long life, but she was still very, very sharp. Her body was just about done. My Aunt Lorraine (who is famous for Lorraine’s Law—“Take small bites and chew thoroughly,” which is a whole separate story) and I went to see Ma Ma in July of ‘98. We went to that little house in White Sulphur Springs, and she’d be awake for a few hours and then asleep— three hours on and three or four hours off. Aunt Lorraine and I were there for two days. What was so powerful about the experience was that she wanted to remember things from our lives. It’s a lesson to remind yourself —when you’re about to die, when you’re about to leave this world…there wasn’t a single thing on her mind about stuff…or things. There was nothing about houses or cars, or money or jewelry or anything. What she wanted to talk to everyone about was people and memories. I remember sitting by her bed one afternoon, and she was asking Lorraine “Do you remember your sister Arlene, Bill’s mom? And that great day when she got married…and how beautiful she was? (My mom died in 1974.) “Do you remember the day Billiam (her nickname for me) was baptized? He just screamed like he was stuck with a pin.” “Yes, Ma Ma, I remember…” And it would go like that. And it was unbelievable. 

It was so teary and emotional but I knew it was a meal you wanted to taste every bite of. And it was something I’ll never forget. That afternoon she turned her attention to me and we talked about some of the memories of the things we did together. She said “Billiam, do you remember coming and having Thanksgiving with me?” And I said “Yes, Ma Ma I do…that was when I was back in college…” She says “Do you remember what you brought with you?” Now, this was the summer of ’98 and my grandmother who’s about to die was remembering me coming to see her for Thanksgiving in November of 1981. And I was barely remembering this. Because I was a college junior, and there were a lot of things going on…not a lot of which I was remembering so clearly. So I said “Well Ma Ma, if I remember right, I think I brought a turkey.” “Yes, you did! Yes, you did Billiam, you brought a turkey, and that was a fine turkey at that meal. Do you remember we had it for our Thanksgiving meal, and I made turkey hash that next morning, and we had turkey sandwiches that next day?” “Yes, Ma Ma, I do remember that.” I’m not positive I remembered that turkey hash, but I wanted to, that’s for certain! Then she said, “Well Billiam, do you remember what that turkey came in?” Now at this point I stretched my mind because I had the decision to make whether I was going to lie to her or not. I had no earthly recollection of what that turkey came in. And how could I? Seventeen years ago…I barely remember what I had for lunch yesterday! “No, Ma Ma, I’m so sorry. I don’t remember at all. What did that turkey come in?” She said, “Well Billiam, it came in a bright yellow plastic mesh bag. “Ma Ma, that’s incredible” I said. How can you remember that?” “Well what you don’t realize, Billiam, is that when you left and went back to college, I took that bag and cut it up into small squares and tied the corners of those squares with plastic twine. I used those squares to scrub my pots for a decade. And I always thought about you and that great time we had together!” It was hard to bear…the emotions of all this…I remember just breaking down. And she said, “You know Billiam, that meant a lot to me…” That was the first time I learned about leaving a legacy. Because I had no idea of what I had done. And yet to Ma Ma, she’d scrub her pans each night and she’d remember that meal. She remembered a legacy that I had left without really knowing it or planning it! 

 The truth is that we all are leaving legacies, everyday, some unintentional like the turkey bag, and some very intentional. I tell this story to people because…not just to remember my grandmother, although I do want to do that…but to ask how much we’re leaving behind that we have no idea about? Are they the things we want to leave? Are we leaving the legacy we want to leave? I’m proud of the fact that Ma Ma used those pot scrubbers for 10 years. I’m humbled to think that she remembered that long ago Thanksgiving visit so sweetly. I’m also inspired to think about all the lasting images that we are leaving behind everyday…with our friends, our families, our workmates and our teams. Remember Ma Ma and take a second to think about what you’re leaving behind…what are your legacies?

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