I have few family heirlooms, and none have value outside of my home. Still, what I have, I treasure, and what I treasure most, perhaps, is the book of poetry my great-grandfather gave my great-grandmother on their wedding day in February, 1905.
Inscribed inside from him to her is this verse from one of the poems of Riley’s Love Lyrics, long out-of-print:
And have the shine/of one glad woman’s eyes to make, for my poor sake,/Our simple home a place divine/Just the wee cot–the cricket’s chirr–/Love, and the smiling face of her.
Okay, maybe long out-of-print for a reason.
I would like to say their marriage was a love story for the ages, but it wasn’t. It was as good or bad a union as any of its time, with one exceptional result: all of their children, including all four women, received a college education. (My grandmother, I believe, was the only one who didn’t graduate, but in her day, women going to college was the exception, not the rule, and she was as smart, and ultimately, as educated, as any of them.)
And their children were good people. I speak of them and not my great-grandparents only because they were the people I knew, and I respected them.
I’ve had several friends lose their parents this past week in a somewhat shocking series of losses, and in each case I’ve been struck by this: the legacy they left behind in their children, some despite themselves, others because of a lifetime of sacrifice for their children.
My great-grandparents clearly started out their marriage with all the hope and anticipation of any newlywed couple, and over the years that youthful belief in each other grew into a deeper knowledge of their spouse’s faults and failings, strengths and unique qualities.
Life is a journey, and not an easy one. We have our benchmark moments, but mostly we have day to day experiences that little by little define us, both to ourselves and others. We look for inspiration in the things around us, but we do the best we can with the power we have at any given moment.
And that’s okay. Our choices evolve, we grow, we’re inspired by others and suddenly we see ourselves in a whole new light. It starts a new path without requiring much thought at that point, because it’s who we want to be.
We want to be better, and we find ourselves seeking that good we know is there inside our souls, to show it to the world. As if the world hadn’t seen it already.