The Woodpilers That Came Before Us
Memorial Day is an appropriate time to reflect on our lives and the people who made us who we are.
My wife and I recently visited a few family gravesites in preparation for Memorial Day. It’s kind of a family tradition handed down from my dad, who makes a point of traveling to many family cemeteries for the holiday.
What struck me again this year is just how much I miss many of those folks. It’s almost five years since my grandmother passed away. Hardly a day goes by that I don’t think of her or any number of other family members. Not out of any sort of morbid fascination or melancholy, but more in appreciation for what they gave me. Sometimes my memory is just triggered by a random small thing that reminds me of someone. It can be quite comforting, but can also reinforce what lessons they passed down to me.
This is not a family that is exactly going to pass down any riches. Instead, it’s more about the impact they have had in shaping me, forming my attitudes and the way I interact with others. Even for wealthy families, it’s all the ‘other stuff’ that ends up making you who you are. That’s why it’s so important to be deliberate in how I come across around the younger members of the family.
For instance, grandma Frances was all about gathering people together. One of eight siblings, her brothers and sisters all remained close over the years. I knew all of the ones that lived reasonably close, which was most of them, about well as most people know their own aunts and uncles. Family reunions were almost unheard of, because we were together many weekends a year!
Being a part of a large family was a great way to spend my formative years. There were a lot of people, different in many ways, but reinforcing a set of shared values – the values of family, hospitality, faith, and more. It was a great example of how people don’t have to always agree or even see things the same way, but can still find a commonality that allows them to love one another.
I probably don’t even understand all of the ways my early family experiences have shaped me. Heck, we’re probably all in the same boat. Even if you very different family backgrounds – broken, cobbled together, large, small, or almost non-existent – the people that are close to you in your formative years end up giving you a piece of them.
Some lessons are obvious. One of my grandfathers had a great sense of humor and was a bit of a teaser. He was also a hardy farmer, working long and hard to support his family. Those are values and characteristics that are pretty clearly defined and handed down. I still try to live up to them.
Other things may not be so obvious. Was there some little habit, a particular approach or attitude to dealing with others that I may have picked up? Maybe one simple incident, a long-forgotten conversation with a family member or friend influenced who I am today in a way for the better. Or at least influenced me…somehow.
At the end of the day, all of those traits, values, attitudes and experiences form the basis of the woodpile that each of us starts out with. If we live life right, we can build our own woodpile higher by putting the positive lessons to good use and passing them along to others.
Everyone starts out with a different woodpile. There is no way around that, and I’m glad that we do. Otherwise I’d have nothing to learn from other people.
I also understand that my woodpile may have been stacked higher or “neater” than other peoples and I appreciate what privileges that may give me, to use a currently popular term. But there is no way that I would or could ever give that up or be even remotely ashamed of it.
That woodpile is also my blessings, earned by those that came before me and passed down to me. It’s mine and mine alone to protect, nurture, and stack higher. Everyone will be better off if I can take what I was given to start with and build on it so I can pass it along to the next generation.
Thank you, grandma, and everyone else in my family. I remember, and I will do my best to make you proud.