A Legacy of Love
One of the joys of our stories is handing them down from one generation to the next; passing along a legacy of love. The summer I turned sixteen was spent on a tiny little barrier island (really, it's more of a sandbar) in the Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of New York, called Fire Island. It was a beautiful and magical place and I loved it. I also, mostly, loved what I was doing that summer, caring for my next door neighbor's children, three year old Elizabeth, nearly two year old Shepherd, and one month old Dylan.
Elizabeth, a spunky little redhead, had dealt well when brother Shepherd showed up but the arrival of Dylan found her far less sanguine. One day as Shepherd napped inside the house Elizabeth and I were on the sun porch along with Dylan in his bassinet. Elizabeth was playing with some toys while I continued reading John Steinbeck's East of Eden, a very long book that I had borrowed from the island's library.
Everything was quite peaceful as Elizabeth got up and went over to Dylan. From my vantage point I couldn't see her hands but I could see her arm move back and forth as she stroked his leg. It all seemed normal till she was betrayed by her face which went from that of a sweet little girl to enraged sibling. I leapt up and saw that she had gone from stroking his leg to trying to twist his foot off at the ankle.
In my sternest tone I told her, "Stop that this instant." She stopped, looked at me, and marched over to where my book lay. Picking it up she left the house and headed for the bay with me trailing behind her. Arriving at the bay she threw my book in. I promptly picked her up and tossed her in after it saying, "Get it!"
After she had picked up my book we stomped back to the house, both fuming. As I opened the book, hoping the sun would dry it sufficiently that I would be able to return it to the library, Elizabeth looked at me and asked, "Do you still love me?" I replied, "I always love you, I just don't always like you very much." Smiling she said, "Okay" and skipped out to play.
Recently she and I told that story to her two little boys. Sharing that story with the boys was amazing. Watching their faces as they heard a tale of their mama as a little girl, and a misbehaving little girl at that, was funny and wonderful. They were delighted to know that their mother wasn't always good, and they wanted to know if Elizabeth felt the same way when they misbehaved that I had about her. What they really wanted to know was that no matter what they did they would always be loved.
They already knew that, but something about hearing the story of their mother seemed to make that knowing even more solid and real for them. Having a story of love continued, despite bad behavior, was grounding and reassuring for them. Hearing about a time in the life of their mama that didn't include them caused them to look at her a bit differently. For a moment they weren't the center of the universe. Then things went back to little boy normal.
Those boys loved that story so much that I believe it is one they will tell their own children someday. Not only to tell those future children about who their grandmother was as a child, but also so their children will understand the history of unconditional love that is the underpinning of their family.
Our stories are not only the foundation of our lives, they are one way in which we pass a legacy of love from one generation to the next.