Last week, as I weeded my garden, a memory floated into my mind. It was a memory of my grandfather in his garden. In my mind, he is standing on the hillside, one foot in front of the other, working in his garden. I like to think I got my love for growing plants from him. I suppose I really got it from my mother, who got it from her father, who got it from his mother, and so on. It’s a legacy.
I am too young to remember anyone helping Grandpa in the garden, but I am old enough to remember him wandering to the mailbox, and through the garden, up the hill to the flower garden behind the bright turquoise sheds, on to check the bees, over to the chickens, and back. In my mind I am 10, and he is reading the newspaper while eating a soft-boiled or poached egg and a piece of toast. On another day, I am reading near the kitchen window and he walks through the room singing Sinatra’s “Mona Lisa” as he tells me to get outside. I remember the way he looked at Grandma. It was a look that said that he was in love with her as much in her eighties as he was when she was in her twenties.
These are the things I remember, but last week, as I carried on the tradition of gardening, I began wondering. I am now the mother of 8 sons. They are 20 years apart. My grandfather had 7 sons and 5 daughters in 25 years. What did he think about in that garden? Did he think about his parents or his siblings? Did he miss Uncle Gibby and worry about his brother’s widow? Did he think about Grandma and the vegetables that she craved in pregnancy? Did he think about his children, running down the line in his mind, and wishing, as every parent does, that he could protect them from the heartaches they would face? Did he relive the horrors of war and the worries that face every young father? Was he ever proud of all of us?
These thoughts have stayed with me this week. I have missed him more than I thought I would, since he has passed away. I lived so far away, that I thought the loss would be dulled somehow. Instead, I find myself wishing that I could sit with him on the porch swing just one more time. I wish I had recorded his stories word by precious word. I want to watch him chuckle. I want to watch him put his mammoth hand on the table and lean back, or watch him puttering around wearing dress socks, plaid shorts and a striped shirt.
Legacy. That is what he gave us, and that is what I am left with. I have known since I was a little girl that I was part of something magical. I was a Blanchet. I had uncles and aunts who loved me simply because I was family. My relatives have been my heroes and their lives have been a touchstone of sorts. I have been in this unique spot that, in some ways, crossed generations. The Blanchet grandkids span a few generations, and I am part of the first. I remember Uncle David and Uncle Felix as young fathers. I have memories of Aunt Linda in a nurse’s uniform, Aunt Pam driving up on an Easter Sunday, Uncle Art coming back from the Merchant Marines, and Uncle Greg helping my mother create a basement room in a little house in South Troy. Aunt Mary Lee taught me how to do the side stroke, substituted in my art class at School 12, and had a little apartment that bordered Emma Willard. I remember the worry over Uncle Danny’s broken back, and I remember how he seemed like a giant–a wonderful giant who loved his nieces and nephews. I am old enough to have been teased by Mark and Charlie who were uncles almost from birth, and to have played people toys and badminton with an aunt–LorrieAnn–who is closer to my age than most of my own sisters.
Family. That is the legacy I was given. I learned loyalty to family. I learned that no matter what, family sticks together. I learned that in a family you put aside your differences and figure it out, because family matters more than anything. Even in the midst of heated emotion and terrible loss, there were threads that bound this group. I learned to love this huge group because I was part of the Blanchet family.
As I grow my garden, I am also growing a large family of boys. They carry first and middle names like David, Daniel, and Joseph. Names that I hope will remind them of where they come from. I hope they grow up to be kind, talented, strong, tall, family men like my uncles. I hope that they meet and marry powerful, amazing, capable women like my mother and my aunts. May they be stubborn, opinionated, and strong-willed, but also persistent, principled, and determined enough to work things out. The world needs people–men and women–of character, who can put aside their pride and need to be right, in order to preserve ties to imperfect legacies. May they carry on this legacy passed from my grandfather to his children and to their children.