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What I Really Know About Legacy: Mama's Cedar Chest

I’d run into her bedroom and plop down next to the chest. Inside sat my legacy. Carefully, Mama lifted out each item and began the “telling.”

First came my tiny crocheted baby dress. “Lordy, your Grandmama crocheted every inch of that dress.” She rocked on the porch, twisting and turning the threads. “Honey, love is in every one of those stitches.” Love made visible. I saw it. I felt it. My legacy.

The welcome cap came next. This tiny batiste bonnet welcomed all the babies in our family. At every “telling” Mama and I named everyone who wore the cap soon after birth. Mama gave me a hug as she revisited the joy and welcome of my birth. I felt secure, wanted, accepted. My legacy.

The wedding handkerchief was a favorite. Mama brought out the tissue-wrapped heirloom. I’d throw a scarf over my head for a veil. Holding the handkerchief in front of me, I walked bride-like around the bedroom. Mama told about the hopes and dreams that handkerchief had accompanied down church aisles. Twenty years later, I, too, took my marriage vows holding that handkerchief. Traditions, values, commitment. My legacy.

But not all the heirlooms in the chest brought joy.

Mama grew still and quiet holding a small batiste pillowcase. We talked about my baby sister who had died. I heard Mama’s voice grow stronger, saw her back straighten.

Taking out a wide, gold wedding band, we talked about another death. More than a century ago, a horse galloped to a country church. My grandmother waited inside to be wed. The rider said her groom had been thrown from his horse and killed. Inside his coat pocket sat the gold wedding ring. As Mama told the stories, I sensed strength, courage, endurance. My legacy.

Finally, my very favorite keepsake—Mama’s medal. When she was young, Mama and five boys vied in a debate competition. Mama won. “I determined I’d beat those boys, and I did,” Mama said. Her win gave me bragging rights and much more. Her medal said: “Set goals. Try. You can.” My legacy.

The usual bequeaths—linens, lace and silver—passed to me when Mama died. But my legacy had already been given, on slow summer days around Mama’s cedar chest.

The AARP Bulletin’s What I Really Know column comes from our readers. Each month we solicit personal essays on a selected topic and post some of our favorites in print and online.Leticia Ritchie Eppink is a reader from Charlottesville, Va.

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