Recently I posted a picture of my grandmother on my Facebook page. The picture is about 20 years old. It shows her with four of her grandkids and her first four great-grandkids. She passed away not long after the picture was taken, making it the last picture I have of her.
What surprised me is the number of people from my hometown who reached out to me to share their fond memories of her. She was a song leader in our church and taught kindergarten for more than 25 years. For the first few years, until a larger school was built, she taught class out of her farmhouse. Her students got a practical education. They saw how to milk cows, feed chickens, identify farm machinery, and how farm families operate.
My grandmother was strict in an old school sense, which meant she had zero tolerance for nonsense. I sometimes worried that she may have been too strict and caused kids to not like her. That’s why it was refreshing when people told me how much she meant to them. Many of her students stayed in touch with her over the years and invited her to their graduation parties, weddings, and other events. She had a standing rule that she would attend any event if she was invited by a former student.
I didn’t realize some of the people she stayed in touch with until my Facebook post prompted them to tell me. I learned that she used to send handwritten letters and give gifts to people at various points in their adult lives. One person told me, “Your grandma made the first year of school so fun and set a precedent of positivity for the school years that followed. She came to our wedding and gave me two little tea plates from her and included such a sweet note. I look at that gift everyday as they are displayed in my hutch.”
Her comment meant a lot to me. I have a couple of her teacups and tea plates too, and I also look at them daily. I have a few of the letters she sent me over the years. They’re positive and reaffirming, and her bold cursive handwriting is identifiable at a glance.
She self-published a couple short memoirs about her life to explain what it was like for her generation to come of age. A friend I graduated high school with sent me a picture of one of the books. I was pleasantly surprised because I didn’t know anyone outside of the family had a copy. The fact that someone who’s not a relative kept the book was another example that she made a positive impact on her students.
As she told people, she had three goals in life: to marry a farmer, to have a family, and to be a teacher. My aunt related to me, “She said she was happy that she accomplished all three and was satisfied.” My grandmother once told me that right after she got married, her biggest worry was making sure dinner was cooked properly. That meant nothing was burned or, what concerned her the most, getting everything done at the same time so something didn’t finish early and was then cold by the time she served it. There’s certainly an admirable innocence to that mindset and also an interesting insight into what newlyweds of that generation worried about.
I was thinking of this because I’ve seen a few stories featuring politicians and athletes talking about their legacies. There’s something pompous about people wanting their names on plaques, buildings, or some other type of remembrances and actively trying to preserve if not shape their legacies, especially among people they never actually met.
People like my grandmother who inspired me didn’t worry about things like this. They would probably agree with Shannon L. Alder, an inspirational writer, who said, “A legacy is etched into the minds of others and the stories they share about you.”