Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Legacies

Do you ever wonder what you're going to have to past down to your kids? I do--a lot. And since I'm a materialistic being, my lack of "things" bothers me. But this post is not about my legacy to the kid. No, this is a bitterly angry diatribe about a legacy a relative of mine is shaping.

In my rural neck of the woods, we know our cousins down to fifth and sixth and so forth. And we're usually pretty tight right up through fourth cousins (Those would be my great aunts and uncles' great-grandkids. For example, J is the great-granddaughter of my grandmother's sister and we're virtually inseparable). This story is about just such a relative, who's not so close to me by blood as she is by love and strong family ties. I'll call her Anne.

Now, Anne is an interesting woman. Loud and funny and loving. She's a great homemaker--cooks up to-die-for food in a spotless house. She's the mother of five, grandmother of five, and is intricately involved in her children's lives. She regularly babysits all her grandkids and provides daycare for her youngest. Anne is also a crack addict. She never moved away from her mom's home--couldn't afford to. She hasn't held a regular job in years. And all this shapes her legacy to her children. It was a legacy that her mother so worried about that, on the night before she had the surgical procedure that led to her death, she begged Anne's second oldest son to take care of the family, to keep them together.

And that is just what he did. In his early 20s, he forfeited the rights to a life of his own, promising to provide for his mother's family until the youngest graduated high school. Along the way, he started drinking heavily, lost the woman he truly loved, and many opportunities to leave. But he paid the bills. He kept the house. He loves his siblings and his niece and nephews. But he resents what he had to do because his mother couldn't.

As do his three younger siblings. They love their mother, but their mouths tighten when you mention her. They barely restrain themselves from negative comments. Rearing them has been a family effort--we've all bought clothes, school supplies, class rings, caps and gowns. But we couldn't buy them what they wanted most--a decent legacy from their mother. The ability to not feel shame, to not look ashamed.

For most of this time, I've felt sorry for Anne. Because she has potential. Because she loves her family in her own way. Because she does what she can. Because she's getting thinner each time I see her. But the sympathy is leaving me. Anne is now shaping the legacy of her grandchildren, and it is perhaps even more disturbing than that she created for her kids.

That youngest grandchild? The one she keeps all the time because he and his mom still stay with her? He has tuberculosis. And he got it from Anne. And Anne got it from God knows where, but I have no doubt it is somehow related to her addiction. So now, in a fit of anger, we're all asking ourselves, when does it stop? How will life be for this baby, just over a year old, who's lying in NICU? For his mom who feels guilt for exposing her child to his grandmother? For the youngest son, who graduates next month and is scheduled to go off into the Army on May 22 (will the Army even take him if he has TB)? For that second oldest son who was already rejoicing that the youngest had "made it," that he himself had kept his promise to his grandmother, that freedom was on the horizon? And even for Anne, whom, despite the anger, we still love? Can she change or reshape her legacy?

Is it too late?

3 comments:

nubian said...

powerful story.
reminds me of my mother and my upbringing.

thank you

Billie said...

I am a firm believer that a legacy isn't life defining forever. It may be late for Anne, but not for her family members. Some may make choices that will mirror the choices Anne has made (following that legacy), or they will make different choices for themselves, choices that will give them a chance at a different life. Even though she's leaving this kind of negative legacy, it really might end up being--and I say this in all sincerity-- a positive legacy because it's an impetus to change.

FWIW.

too conservative said...

Ms.Elle-

I've missed your comments on tooconservative, what happened!??

Please-send me an email, or call me.

I have some interesting news for you.

E-mail is vincent@tooconservative.com
My cell is 703.314.3486

As you may know, I am going to school in Texas next year.

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