My grandfather never knew a mortgage payment. He lived in the same house from the time he was nine years old until he died at age 92. His was a simple life. He worked for a modest income, but his needs were few. His garden was the source of much of his food and the measure for many around town. He rarely traveled beyond the village borders.
My grandfather was a wise man, but I didn’t understand that in my youth. What I did understand was that our society had evolved to the point where the wisdom of our elders played an ever-diminishing role. Today’s corporate culture values youthful energy and the obsessive drive to continuously learn and produce anew. Old skills have little worth and yesterday’s technology lies in the scrapheap. In my late teens, I left my home state of Vermont with the belief that opportunity lay elsewhere. I set out to make a mark in the world, but a decade later I returned and, over time, began to look at the small town culture and its inhabitants through a new lens.
Today, I find myself spending more and more time thinking about my grandfather. His legacy was one of self-reliance, family, and personal integrity. His was a value that cannot be assigned with a price tag in the marketplace. My grandfather did not have money to pass on after his death. My inheritance is the memory of a man who indelibly touched my life in ways that I am just now beginning to understand.
There was once a time when I considered my rural background and generalist skills of lesser value than those of the corporate climbers. I wanted to become an expert, too. In what, I didn’t know.
Long ago I put any grandiose “career” aspirations behind me. I now long to be more like my grandfather. Perhaps it is because I’ve come to understand the fallacies that lured our culture through the twentieth century. Basic skills that had previously been passed from generation to generation have been lost in much of the population. The relationship between the experienced elder or master craftsman and the youthful apprentice has given way to the teen teaching mom and dad how to set up email on the home computer. I often ask, what will my children inherit from me?
A couple of years ago I was talking with my older son about the importance of being able to create something with my own hands, fix something that breaks, or grow my own food. I was saddened by his response when he exclaimed, “Dad, those aren’t things we need to know. Those are things we pay people to do for us.”
As devastating as his remark seemed at the time, I know that I can’t impose my understanding of the world on him. His reality is much different than mine. Someday, perhaps, David will look back at the host of influential people in his life. He may be as surprised as I was when he discovers how and from where the lasting impressions were formed.
While tending the fire in my little front-yard sugarin’ evaporator recently, I learned that the man I’d written of in late February, the farmer with the sugarhouse next to my childhood home, had passed away on March 10th. My sister wrote to me and said, “Seems appropriate that he went during sugaring season…”
In my reply, I told Melanie that I’d boil a batch of syrup for Howard and that I’d been thinking about the lasting impressions that have come from people I never would have expected.
Melanie wrote back, “It’s most easy for me to believe that people do live on forever … in the lives of the people they impacted when they were alive and then in an everlasting cascade of the people they each impact.”
Hmm. How is it that I failed to notice that my youngest sister had become so wise?