A few weeks ago I wrote about shifting my focus from the past to the future. But sometimes in order to make the shift you have to go back and deal with some of what’s been left behind. I guess because I’m the oldest daughter of an only child, I somehow managed to inherit boxes and boxes of old papers and pictures from my mother’s family. I’ve been trying to systematically rid myself of 65 years of my parents’ tax returns, property tax bills, old newspaper clippings, recipes, magazines, health records, etc.
The latest project to tackle has been the papers left behind by my great aunt. Having never married or had children of her own, my mother was her next of kin and caregiver in her later years. One of the things my dear Aunt Chris devoted herself to was uncovering our family’s genealogy. She literally spent years of her life researching, traipsing through cemeteries and courthouses, corresponding with cousins across the country and around the world. It’s an interesting hobby that can consume you easily. But what do you do with all the paper and copies of documents once there is no one ready to take on the task? Well, it may have been a mistake, but this week I shredded most of it, saving only the most important documents and the last resulting family tree. That’s right, I shredded old title deeds to property that was lost during the depression because the taxes couldn’t be paid, then recovered in the 1940’s by paying up the taxes. I tossed out old letters sent by airmail to cousins in Tokyo and London. I destroyed all her working copies of ancestors, written out in longhand. And Emily, yes, I even shredded copies of the wills from 1723 South Carolina in which one of my great-great-greats bequeathed to his children specific Negro slaves by their gender, age and name. I must confess that I did keep the final copy of our ancestry showing our direct lineage to King Edward I — I figured it should be good for some laughs in the future. (I will now be answering to “Lady Sara” and expecting curtsies.)
I think the most interesting thing about all this paper though is that each name on it was a life – a person who was born, grew, worked, most times married and had children. Each person went through life experiencing many of the same feelings and emotions that I do in my life. Each person probably wondered about why they were made. Oh, how I would love to know their stories. I can only hope now that each person listed knew God in a personal way. And it makes me wonder what will generations in the future think or know about me and how I lived my life? Instead of looking at the heritage behind me, I need to think of the legacy ahead of me.
With that in mind, I can’t help but think of Great Aunt Chris. She is more than just heritage named on a page. For she left a legacy for me and my family. As I mentioned she never married or had children of her own. But she poured her life into so many. Several times she had college students live with her while they went to school. She took care of both her parents, her brother and her own aunt until they each died. She worked for the same company for nearly forty years in various accounting capacities. She went to night school at Jones County Junior College and then at the University of Southern Mississippi taking one or two courses each semester until she finally earned her degree. She pursued learning to play the piano when she was fifty years old – when told she’d be sixty by the time she learned to play, she responded “Well, I’ll be sixty years old then anyway!” She was that person, in the story you read, who lived frugally all her life and when she died left her life savings in CD’s to her nieces and nephews.
But these were not her most important legacy. For me she was the single consistent Christian witness I can point to throughout my life. She belonged to the same little church all her life. She was a regular there and supported every ministry they had. She never gossiped, spoke ill of anyone, raised her voice, cussed, drank or smoked. She visited the sick, gave “old folks” rides to church, and visited the hospitals and nursing homes regularly. And I don’t ever remember her asking for anything for herself. I have both a sister and a daughter named after her. And though I destroyed a lot of her old paperwork this week, I’ve kept every single picture I found of her – there were surprisingly few.
So, forgive me Aunt Chris for not keeping all the evidence of your hard work. But instead of researching more ancestors, I hope to spend my time with this generation and the next loving on them unselfishly like you did for me.
What will your legacy be?