November 22, 2005

Building Legacies

1547 page28 capOT LONG AGO I WAS REMINISCING about my childhood home. I could see our white house with its green trim. I could walk through the additions my dad built onto the house. With fondness I crawled through the cubby holes and closets that made such neat hiding places. I stood in front of my bedroom window looking out onto the roof. Many mornings I crawled onto the roof and jumped to the ground for special expeditions.

In my imagination I climbed the huge oak trees we climbed in as kids. We started at one spot and jumped from limb to limb until we had traversed the whole tree, Tarzan-style, never touching the ground.

The majestic water tower with its concrete cellar, fruit room, and shop topped by a garage, topped by a block and tackle room, topped by a big water tank, topped by a little water tank, topped by a windmill held special fascination for me. Perched atop this tower, I surveyed the countryside. I could see the chicken pens, one of which we converted into a clubhouse. I could see the big garden that my dad kept flowing with corn, beans, squash, and neat rows of blackberries. I could see the L-shaped lawn where we played football. You had to pass the ball blindly over the porch and hope your receiver was there.

The March of Time
Upon retirement my folks moved to another town, into a house with a yard that was easier to keep up.

As my parents got older Mom commented, ?If there?s anything you especially want when we?re gone, put your name on it so there won?t be any fighting.? That wasn?t a pleasant thought. While I knew intellectually that they wouldn?t always be there, it wasn?t easy to think of a time when they wouldn?t be.

1547 page28Mother?s statement caused me to look around through different lenses. There were new couches, nice chairs, tables, etc. But as I looked around, only three things held any interest for me. The first was a picture of an Indian sitting on a horse looking over the brow of a hill. If you tried to buy it at a yard sale or secondhand store, they?d probably give it to you for buying something else--it had no economic value. But it had hung on a wall in our dining room as far back as I can remember. It was moved from wall to wall occasionally, but it was always there.

The second item was a writing desk. The front dropped open revealing many drawers and slots in which to keep envelopes and paper. It wasn?t a serious-get-down-to-study type of desk. It was just a desk that, along with the picture, had always been there in the dining room.

The third item of interest to me was a little .410 shotgun. The stock was gouged, scratched, and motley looking. The barrel needed blueing in the worst way.

The Value of Memories
With a smile and a pen I headed over to the Indian picture. As I turned the picture over and prepared to write my name, I discovered the words ?Tom,? ?Bette,? and ?John?--too late.

Then I put my name on the desk and the .410. These are now in my possession.

In visiting with my brothers and sister, we realized we all wanted essentially the same things--those things to which we had emotional ties; those things that made up our childhood memories; those things that gave us ownership in our family.

Then my meditation jumped the chasm of time, and I wondered, What will my children, Andy and Molly, inherit from me? What do I have that would interest them?

Perhaps they?d like my computer (not likely). Both are far more advanced in computer technology than I am, and my computer will doubtless be an antique by the time I?m gone.

Perhaps they?d like my photographic equipment. Again, not very likely; they have their own.

I know what they?ll want; they?ll want the .410 and the desk I inherited from my parents; or will they? What do these two things mean to them?

When I look at the .410, I see my mom blasting a rattlesnake so well that we never did find its head. I see my brother being chased out of the house by my sister, who tried to get him to eat a piece of the pie she had made. I see my brother-in-law trying to get in good with my dad by killing a skunk, only to shoot the animal right under the kitchen ?cooler.? I see my parents? closet, where the gun was always kept. And now, I see my wife Marilyn?s love as she had the barrel blued and the stock refinished for my birthday.

When Molly or Andy gets it, the lucky inheritor will get a .410 shotgun that belonged to their great-grandpa, grandpa, and papa. But neither will receive the sights, sounds, emotions, and memories I have as I hold it in my hands. To them, it?s just a gun, a memento to be placed on the wall. To me, it?s memories and experiences.

More Than Memories
While teaching in Orofino in 1976 we bought some land 20 miles out in the trees. Andy was about 8, and Molly, 6. Our family spent the summer working--pounding nails, measuring, building a house together. We each had a hammer, a nail apron, and a measuring tape; Mom, Dad, and the kids.

We moved in when it was just an enclosed shell. You could see from one side of the house to the other because there were no walls, just studs. We continued working on it that year, living without running water or electricity, bathing in a galvanized tub, cooking on an old cookstove. Running down the path to the outhouse became a way of life. We put up a rope swing, caught crawdads, and battled rats with slingshots.

The next year we received a call to teach in Washington. But every summer we went back to relax and spend time working on the place. For years Marilyn and I went back every year to work on the place. Molly is married and lives in Colorado. Andy and his wife are back to the Northwest. Neither of them will probably ever live in Orofino. Yet when I talk about selling the place, I get voted down every time.

1547 page28Then it hit me: this is their .410. This is their Indian picture. This is their desk. This is not something they will own when I die. They own it already; it?s a part of them. Each has his or her own set of memories and experiences with the place: the creek, the trees, the house, even the rats.

When the children of Israel entered the Promised Land, we find some sobering words: ?After Joshua had dismissed the Israelites, they went to take possession of the land, each to his own inheritance. The people served the Lord throughout the lifetime of Joshua and of the elders who outlived him and who had seen all the great things the Lord had done for Israel. . . . After that whole generation had been gathered to their fathers, another generation grew up, who knew neither the Lord nor what he had done for Israel? (Judges 2:6-10).*

These people must have talked about all the experiences they?d had during their sojourn from Egypt to Canaan. All the miracles, all the victories--there?s no way they could have kept it quiet. And God told them to do just that.

In Deuteronomy 6:4-9 Moses commanded them to love God with all the heart, soul, and strength; to pass their values on to their children; to talk about them at home; to talk about them as they traveled; to talk about them as they rested; to talk about them when they arose; to tie them as symbols on their hands and foreheads; to write them on their doorframes and on their gates.

But evidently talk is not enough. The words of Proverbs 22:6 have taken on new meaning: ?Train children in the right way, and when old, they will not stray? (NRSV). It does not say ?tell? children the way to go; it says to ?train? them.

A few years ago a study was done on why Adventist young people leave the church. One item from that study stands out in my mind: involving children in service for others; not service led by the children?s divisions, not service led by the church school. These are all fine and good, but our children need to know that service is important to the most important people in their lives--their moms and dads.

Too often we help others and leave our children at home and tell them what we did. That?s good for our experience, but what about theirs? When will they be given experiences to own for themselves?

My wife and kids baked bread, cookies, etc., and visited neighbors together. They prayed together. They drew care notes and mailed or delivered them together. A few times the children and I repaired things for neighbors, or they joined me on Bible studies. But as I look back now I wish we?d been more involved in helping others.

Our legacies, whether .410s, desks, houses, or a relationship with Jesus, to be of inheritable value, have to be owned by personal experience.

*Unless otherwise noted, Bible texts in this article are from the New International Version.

D. Reid McCrary and his wife, Marilyn, retired in June after a career of team teaching in small schools in the North Pacific Union Conference. They live in the hills of Orofino, Idaho.