I want my legacy to be…

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L-R: Sibby Isabelle Copeland, Ethel May Copeland, and Joseph Franklin Copeland
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Charles A. Lovel and Ethel May Copeland On Their Wedding Day
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Kate Lovel Bryner, Deborah Lovel Bryner, and Rhys Lovel Bryner
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Kate Lovel Bryner

It’s been awhile since I wrote a post for Finish the Sentence Friday…July, in fact. This week’s prompt is too good to pass up though…and since it’s a topic on which I frequently dwell, here goes…

 I want my legacy to be…boy, there’s a loaded sentence prompt! When I had my first child, twenty-eight years ago, I started thinking about what I wanted her to remember about me. Not my temper, that was for sure…so what did I want her to know about me? To remember about me? This started me thinking about some of the things I remembered about the significant people in my life, and even those people I grew up admiring. My grandmother was the first really significant leaver of legacy in my life, so I guess she’s as good a place to start as any…

 Ethel May Copeland was born the year that the World’s Fair came to St. Louis Missouri. She was the daughter of two distant cousins – if memory serves, her parents were fourth cousins to each other. Sibby Isabelle Copeland (Belle) married Joseph Franklin Copeland and my grandmother, Ethel, was their first child. All of my life, Gram was the foundation that I could always go to. I could always count on her love. I knew that she stood for a firm set of values and beliefs. She was a staunch Southern Baptist. She tithed even when she couldn’t afford money for the heart medications she needed. She loved the Lord and never wavered in that faith. She fell in love with Charles A. Lovel when she was a very young girl – not yet sixteen – and he was a grown man of more than twenty. She told me once that he had “the bluest eyes I have ever seen!” and when she said those words, a faint flush arose in her cheeks and her eyes lit up like stars…Grandpa Charlie died in 1955 and when she spoke to me about him, he had been dead for more than 45 years – and he still made her knees weak.

 When my Gram died, she was 99 years, 8 months and a number of days old…and the last thing she said aloud was “What are you all doin’ here?!?” We were all to have flown down for her 100th birthday celebration and she couldn’t understand why we were there early…but she didn’t quite make it to 100. She died in February 2005, just four months shy of her birthday…but her legacy lives on in me, in my sisters and brother, my nieces and nephews. and even in my great-nieces and nephews. Gram taught me how to find food wherever I am – which weeds are safe to eat, what wild celery looks like…and how delicious fiddlehead ferns and watermelon berries taste when you’re out walking in the Alaskan woods. Gram would fly up to Anchorage every summer and spend the whole summer with us. For the first few years, she refused to wear pants…until the mosquitoes chewed her skinny ass to bits. Then she wised up and allowed that perhaps the Lord would permit her to wear pants. After that, she expanded her wardrobe to smart slack suits. She worried about our souls, so one summer I told her that I accepted Christ as my savior, just so she would be reassured…but I loved her so much that the truth of it wasn’t as important as was her peace of mind.

 So what legacy did my Gram leave to me? Well…I was the one who would sit with her and ask questions about who married who, and who had how many children and where did they live…I became the family genealogist. We’re a scarce breed, we family historians. There generally is only one born per generation, if you’re very fortunate. Sometimes several generations are skipped. My family, like so many, has its own share of demons and Things We Don’t Talk About…but we genealogists, we want to know ALL the stories. Like my Uncle Glen Lovell’s illegitimate son, who was conceived before Uncle Glen went off to the Second World War. When he came back he married Angie and they had four children of their own…but there was, in the background, my cousin Terry and his mother. I believe that Gram knew about Terry, because she was the Keeper of the Family Secrets, but it wasn’t until Glen died that the rest of the family found out about it…when Terry showed up at Glen’s funeral, along with his ex-wife Angie and second AND third wives…MAN do I wish I could have attended that funeral service! What a blast it must’ve been…all the skeletons tumbling out of the closets, willy-nilly…

 The prompt, however, asks what legacy I want to leave to MY children…I think they have it now. I watch my son Rhys and I see in him a blending of my passion and (I hope) loving heart, as he adopts the broken and hurting and helps them to heal. I see it in my daughter’s quiet intelligence and love of cats, games and LIFE. As my children interact with others, I see myself and the lessons we learned together about treating others the way we want to be treated. When my son sees a poorly behaved child in the store, and he turns to me, saying, “Mom – if we’d acted like that, we wouldn’t be able to sit down for a WEEK!” then I know that lesson was painful but well worth learning. When we made the very difficult decision to seek guardianship of our daughter, I see my legacy in the way our son stepped up to accept his responsibility for the care of his sister, when his father and I are gone. I raised – WE raised – a whole man. A good man. A Godly man. And our daughter is proof of our legacy…she is intelligent and capable, within her own limitations…and she will be fine when I am gone into that good night.

 Legacy can be found in many many different things…in the appreciation of history and its importance in our lives, in the understanding of art, music and faith…in the knowledge of one’s self…in staying connected to family, even when the warts come out. Of not giving up on each other because sometimes we’re all we have…and make no mistake: my own legacy is in no small part due to the partnership I have with my husband of thirty years. He is my rock and my anchor in the stormy world in which we live. I couldn’t make it without him.

 So…legacy. Legacy, my dear friends, is what happens when we’ve got our heads down and we’re struggling through life, just trying to keep our heads above water and not die. Our children watch us in those times too, you know…and they remember. This helps when you think you’re not going to survive whatever disaster is unfolding in your life: your children are watching – so make it a Learning Experience…

4 thoughts on “I want my legacy to be…

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