One of the questions I ask of “WOW Factor” interviewees is: What would you like your legacy to be? A few have appeared somewhat startled by the question, as though they’d never given the concept of legacy much thought. They’ve looked at me bewildered, as if to say, What do you mean?
“Not money,” I reassure them, laughing, since none of us is known for our material wealth. “Rather, what would you like to leave behind of your talents and gifts that could benefit others?”
Each of these wise women has had an answer to that.
In my own case, I’m now embarking on a long-term legacy project that is giving me great joy. This is how it evolved:
As I’ve written elsewhere (see “View” blog post of May 26), this year marks the thirtieth anniversary of my mother Lee’s death. Memories of her final days and the immediate aftermath of her death have been rushing back to me. One memory in particular fills me with deep regret.
After Lee’s standing-room-only memorial service, my two sisters and I, with job and family commitments of our own elsewhere, rushed through our task of emptying our mother’s house for the anxious, waiting homebuyers. Lee had remained in the house where we grew up; it was a good-size, sturdy brick house – three bedrooms, two bathrooms, living room, dining room, kitchen, attic, and basement – filled with a lifetime of family belongings and memories (some of which my sisters and I preferred to forget).
Each of us took a section of the house. The kitchen was within my section. I claimed some of Lee’s old-fashioned utensils, battered muffin tins, and yellowed Pyrex pie plates for old-time’s sake (she was a world-class baker and pie maker); but most of the rest went to the Salvation Army, along with all of her clothes and most of her furniture.
One vivid scene from that rushed process haunts me still: I opened a kitchen drawer in haste and found it stuffed with recipes – hand-written recipes in her distinctive, vertical handwriting on 3 x 5 cards, recipes clipped from women’s magazines; old, stained, faded recipes and freshly clipped recipes from the local newspaper. What they all had in common was that they were hers, her choices, her picks, her treasures. She’d deemed them worth keeping. If she hadn’t tried to make them already, she had probably planned to do so soon. Cooking always made her happy. Her cooking, my sisters and I could agree on, provided some of our best childhood memories.
But in that fateful, thoughtless moment, I was tired and in a hurry. I needed to get back to my corporate job in the City. I didn’t have time to sort through the contents of this kitchen drawer that seemed to me in that emotionally blurry time like so much confetti.
So I dumped Lee’s prized collection of recipes into a black garbage bag and added it to the mounting pile of trash by the curb. I’ve regretted doing so since that day.
Flash forward thirty years:
I have some recipes of my own worth preserving, and that’s precisely what I’m planning to do. My legacy project is a legacy cookbook for my two beloved grandchildren who are now in their twenties. This book will be a collection of my favorite, handpicked recipes, hand-lettered and hand-illustrated in watercolors on heavy-duty, quality paper.
To this end, I’m taking an intensive art class this summer to learn how to do illustration. This is a first for me. And in the process, I’m learning how to be more patient. (If the secret ingredient in cooking is love, then the secret to painting is patience, I’m learning.) My hope is to paint everything from A (apples) to Z (zucchini) colorfully and suggestively, if not perfectly. But first, I’ve had to practice with faces and flowers.
The other day, while shopping in an art supply store for a waterproof, archival pen with which to copy out my recipes by hand, the shop owner told me about her own grandmother’s handwritten notebooks. “She died recently,” the woman told me, “and we have all of her recipes in these notebooks. They are priceless to me.”
When I told my granddaughter the other day about this project-in-the-works, she said, “Oh, I will cherish it!” Those were the magic words. It may take me months – if not years — to complete, but this one-of-a-kind book, bound in soft leather, will say, “I made this with my own hands for you. You can keep it, hold it, admire it if you like, use it as a guide, see what I saw, taste what I liked to taste…. This is my gift, my legacy for you.”
So I ask you, What would you like your legacy to be?