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Just dropping by ... I wanted more

Yevet Crandell Tenney for Progressive Dairy Published on 25 August 2021

The sultry August day my grandfather passed away, I walked up the path under the willow trees. I noticed the group gathered around my grandfather’s lawn chair. I knew he was there. Tears stung my eyes. I couldn’t join the group.

The police and the ambulance were waiting to take him away. I made my way into the old ranch house.

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When my eyes grew accustomed to the light, I saw Grandma sitting in the rocking chair. I hugged her. Our tears mingled for a brief second. There were no words; just the silent “I love you” we both felt. I pulled up a chair, sat down and held her hand.

Uncle Lynn entered. “Here is the stuff from Dad’s pockets,” he said softly. “Where do you want them?”

Grandma held out her hands, and Lynn deposited the contents in her lap. Grandma, almost blind, picked up the pocketknife, and stroked it as if it was an old friend. She fingered a silver and turquoise Indian bracelet. Then she picked up his copper wrist band that he wore on his left wrist because it helped his rheumatism. A few pennies and quarters also rested in her lap with a pack of gum. I remembered how he always had gum to share with children. I swallowed a lump in my throat and dried new tears. That was all he had after 75 years of living.

When the family asked me to put together his biography, I realized how little remained of his 75 years. I went to each of his 10 children and asked them to tell me about their father.

“He was a cowboy. He was a great man. He served people, but I don’t remember that much.” Without exception, the answers were vague. When I exhausted my resources, I had less than 10 hand-written pages of his life. I felt cheated. I wanted more! I wanted the Old West to live for me through him. I wanted to know what made him happy and sad. I wanted to know what he felt was most important in life. I wanted his wisdom; but there was nothing, just the cold hard facts. He was born. He lived and died.

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Nearly every day for more than 30 years, my mother wrote copious journals. Before she passed away, I read each one to her because she could not hear very well or see to read them for herself. My voice was trained in the theater, so she could hear me. We laughed and cried as she remembered her life. Yes, there were entries that told tidbits about the weather and the daily routine of a rancher, but even that was a treasure because I grew to know the consistency of a strong woman who faced every day with courage. The real treasure was when she told of her love for her husband and family and experiences of faith and trust in God. I loved what she had written, but I wanted more.

Recently, I finished typing my dad’s journal. He wrote one that spanned about 10 years of life with skipped time intervals. I laughed and cried. His journal was mostly tidbits about the weather and the daily routine of a rancher, but I loved it. I could hear the patterns of his speech and hear the laughter in his voice in jokes he wrote. I treasure the fleshed-out instances he chose to record for posterity. When I finished typing, I felt satisfied but cheated. I loved what he had written, but I wanted so much more. I cried when I typed the last page.

My brother, Chester, was always too busy to write a journal, but I finally hog-tied him one Sunday afternoon to get some details about his life. He was a wonderful storyteller, and he talked for two hours. He ended our conversation with his intimate feelings about each of his eight children. What a treasure. The information I recorded was used for his life sketch at his funeral. I loved what he had recorded for me, but I wanted more! He had a legacy of stories and wisdom that went with him to the grave.

I have encountered every excuse imaginable for not writing a journal or recording the important events of life. “I can’t write. Nobody would be interested in my boring life. I don’t have the time.” The excuses go on and on.

In answer to every excuse, I ask a series of questions: Would you like to have a journal of your great grandfather and grandmother? Would you like to know how they lived, what was important to them, and what they learned in life? The answers to these questions are always quick and to the affirmative. Then, I ask, “Don’t you think your children and grandchildren will want to know the same about you?”

The answer is not always quick, but the real answer is simple. If you love your family, you will leave them a legacy of love through your recorded words.

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I have often pondered what makes an interesting life history. I always return to the Bible. It is one of the best examples of sifting the important from the trivial. There are five elements in the Bible that make it exciting. 1) It tells the truth; 2) It contains some genealogy; 3) There are stories; 4) There are worthwhile bits of wisdom; 5) There is enough detail to make the stories come alive.

Consider this: Jesus was born in Bethlehem. When he was 12, he was lost from his parents. He wowed the doctors in the temple, but He wasn’t popular, so at the age of 33, the Romans killed him.

The information is true, but there is nothing to tell who he was. There is nothing to gain by reading those sentences. It raises many questions, speculations and a desire to know more, but that is all. Jesus’ mission would have been lost in history if the writers had recorded his life like a sparse obituary. By contrast, after we read the Bible, we feel uplifted and have a desire to live better lives. That is because someone cared enough to add detail. The writers of the Bible cared passionately about the teachings of this man called Jesus and about the future reader. They wanted the world to remember!

Writing a life history is like walking through a flower garden, gathering a bouquet to give to a friend. It would be ludicrous to cut every flower in the garden. Bouquets are beautiful because they are rare and put together with a loving eye. Only the best flowers are chosen and displayed to show their exquisite beauty.

Does that mean we only tell stories that are beautiful and happy? Absolutely not! A bouquet becomes more beautiful if there is something “not so beautiful” mingled with the flowers. A spray of baby’s breath, a fern, or even a dried weed can bring out the beauty of the rose.

Often, we have experiences that feel like thorns and dried weeds. By telling those experiences and how we overcame them, we will perhaps help someone else deal with the same problem. Here is the key: If the experience made a lasting, positive difference in your life or could help someone become better for reading the experience, then share it. If it is just a bad experience, it is better for the experience to die with you. There is nothing so tragic as words that reach back from the grave to hurt another human being. Remember, when you are gone, you can’t say, “I’m sorry.” Abraham Lincoln once said, “Look for the good and you will find it.”

Writing a history or journal is rich with rewards. If you leave a history, your posterity will remember you. Future generations will remember only what you have told them or what others have said about you. Thinking through your history as you write gives insight and direction to the rest of your life. As you keep a daily record, you will enlarge your memory and chart your future more accurately as you see mistakes and work to correct them. Best of all, in your heart, you know you are giving something priceless to future generations. What could make you feel more valuable and important? Open the door to your past and future; write a history and keep a journal.  end mark

Yevet Crandell Tenney is a Christian columnist who loves American values and traditions. She writes about faith, family and freedom.

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