Saturday, September 18, 2010


When my grandmother was diagnosed with terminal cancer, she decided to expand her talents beyond those of stuffing her grandchildren full of well-made Italian food, trying in vain to keep my grandfather from telling us the same story over and over, secretly whispering her histories and early flirtations to my sister and me seated at her kitchen table, and sending us both birthday cards with plenty of double entendres, signing them in her perfectly graven handwriting "your sleazy grandma."

My grandmother decided that it was the moment for her to build each of her children's families a dollhouse. This was no small task. Owing in large part to the great deal of affection she and my grandfather preserved to her final days, as well as (my father would joke) a very tiny marital bed, she had nine children, thus nine families.

I'm not sure why she chose dollhouses. In my final visit to her I never had the courage to ask. I think it was because she was never happy if she was not busy doing something that involved taking care of those in her life, and lacking the strength to cook, clean, and beat us in Spite and Malice (a card game I mistakenly called for years "Spike and Alice), she could sit and spend hours on something she hoped we'd keep for our own children and theirs - the ones that she would never live to see.

It's funny, although I never put it together until I was going through some journals recently, it was almost 2 years to the day of the anniversary of her death that I was taking pictures of spirit houses from a longboat in Thailand. Perhaps that's what our own family's miniature rendition of a Southern mansion was supposed to be. I wish I had a tiny vase of flowers to set on the dining room table along with some stuffed shells. I've neglected her perhaps.

In her final year, she had sent each of us one of her wedding presents as a gift. My sister and I, being the ones she rarely got to see as we were of the exotic Southern strain - the strain that found the Western Pennsylvania accent garbled and strange, the people hard and the weather less than kind - were probably her favorites. I got her silver dish with flower engravings, which was the first thing I put over my kitchen window when I moved into this, my first home.

Everyone is fascinated by where they come from. Genealogy has grown from a hobby to a full-fledged business. I recently laughed at a friend during a trip to Napa for being somewhat obsessed with tracking down her roots. My roots are (due in large part to the efforts of both of my grandmothers) set in stone, so that search holds much less fascination for me. There are no questions. Just legacies.

Ever since my father's paternal strain stepped off the boat from jolly ol' England, there has been a Samuel in every generation, starting with my great-great-grandfather and ending with my brother. In the order of stone-set legacies, the three most recent are buried side by side in a roadside cemetery located in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.

Thus, continuing the Samuel legacy is now up to the remaining children in my own little family. I refuse to speak for my sister, but I heavily doubt being up to that task. I have little patience, am easily annoyed by my own dogs, and will never be able to hold a baby in my arms without feeling terrified that I will drop it. I am supremely selfish, inherently lazy, and my sense of humor borders on the perverse. And I have friends that are far too much of a good influence. My Sam would probably love them much more than me.

Which leads me to doubt about what my own legacy is. And if I even need one, considering my fear of spawning the next generation.

I've thought about this all day as I've paced with that last minute writer's block that only a legal deadline inspires along with my own fears for what I really want my future to be. Do I even care if anyone remembers me when I'm gone? I think a few years ago the thought of being forgotten would've filled me with complete horror. I thought the only point of life was to excel and thus be well-known. To have people remember me fondly and with admiration. Or at least tell each other "and she was always sooo beautiful."

I just realized an hour ago that I don't have to have a legacy. This is strangely liberating. This gives me excuses to realize that there is life outside of the work of making a legacy, that is little life in forcing a legacy, and if my legacy should be non-existent, that doesn't mean that my life is non-existent as well.

In other words, if I have to have one, my legacy is going to be not giving a damn about things like legacies. And I think, despite her own enormous legacy symbolically captured in the careful detail of her nine dollhouses, my grandmother would approve of that.

She always thought I was the eccentric one anyway.

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