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Building a legacy

It was a long drive and the three fishermen had plenty of time to talk. They quizzed one another about features on the map. They challenged one another with trivia questions about sports, politics, Lewis and Clark. They talked about legacies and decided that everyone is building a legacy of some sort or another. They drove by a farm and decided the owner of that place was building a legacy of never throwing anything away.

If you think about your own legacy, you have to think about your forefathers.

By the time he died, my Grandpa Joe was a legend. He was an extremely quiet Swede, the father of nine children. He was a builder of quality barns in the 1920s and 1930s. The barns were big, solid and beautiful. Each one had a finishing touch, Grandpa's trademark, a big white star on the highest peak of the barn. As a kid, I remember driving through the countryside and my mother would point to the star on a barn and tell me, "There's a barn your Grandpa Joe built." Joe may have been quiet, but he was proud and fully supportive of his nine children, who were all solid citizens. At family gatherings, Joe was known for dancing a "jig." They say he was a very good dancer. I got to know Grandpa only in his declining years, and knew him as a sweet, kindly guy who could fix anything I could break. Grandma Florence was part of that legacy. Grandpa Joe kept his nine kids working and Grandma Florence, "Flossy," kept them happy and laughing.

My other grandpa, Gottlieb, left a legacy as well. He was a big, solid, broad shouldered German farmer (from Russia) who, in 1903, packed his five kids and pregnant wife and left Bessarabia (now part of the Ukraine), through Ellis Island and landed in North Dakota. Two brothers and their families followed. Five more children, including my dad, were born in America. Grandpa was an elder in his church and a regular reader (in German). When he retired from farming, Grandpa moved into town, where I saw him often. His entire yard was planted with a majestic vegetable garden that he irrigated with troughs and little canals, by standing and pumping water patiently for hours. He would move the troughs from one canal to another, thus irrigating the entire area. He also had flowers and sweet smelling mints around the edges.

Grandpas Joe and Gottlieb weren't "important" people, or well known. Their legacy was a legacy of hard work, solid values, love of family and year after year of dependability. Their qualities stood the test of time. And they left lots of children and grandchildren to remember what they stood for.

In the last few days, I've seen evidence of parenting that will be the beginning (or continuation) of legacies. I drove past the Little League ballpark and saw this dad hitting soft ground balls to two little guys almost too tiny to hold up their gloves. The next day, I saw a dad working out with his 15 year old daughter, encouraging her running and volleyball skills. Then just today, I saw a mom and dad on a basketball court encouraging their 12 year old daughter and feeding her the ball for shot after shot. All that coaching and encouragement counts. It counts too when the coaching and encouragement is for piano and voice lessons, fishing together, raising horses, tutoring math or encouraging kids in any constructive activity. Father's Day is an appropriate time to remember these examples.

Our friend Larry has just stepped down from 20 plus years as mayor. He leaves a legacy of love for his city, enthusiasm, boosterism, planned growth, development, modernization, and integrity. It's an outstanding legacy of public service.

We're all building legacies. Even Bernie Madoff built one, a legacy of years and years of greed, fraud and cheating the people who trusted him most even if they were running charities. So, as each of us builds his or her legacy, we all have to decide what we'd like to be remembered for. Do you want to be a Joe, Gottlieb or Larry, or are you going to be remembered as a Bernie?