fun · Original Thought · Uncertainty

Left Behind

My grandmother left me a world that was better for her having lived her life on it. I suspect that her grandmother had given her the same inheritance. What am I leaving my grandchildren? What will you leave future generations?

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I was taught to model my behavior and relationships through her courage, curiosity, and certainty. Grandma had dozens of grandchildren, and at her funeral in 1977, I was a pallbearer. I was also convinced that I was her favorite until I discovered that all my cousins thought the same thing. Realizing that I shared the position with so many didn’t dampen my enthusiasm but rather encouraged me to try to live my life as if the person in front of me was important. I have failed greatly and succeeded meagrely, but her practice still resonates and rings true regardless of my measure.

Gertrude Edith Lavender Holmlund was born in Gillman, Iowa in 1895. She moved to rural Saskatchewan to homestead with her husband Ezra and raised nine children on the small farm. Grandma was a reader and a reciter who performed long poems, stories, and sagas from stages across the prairies. The love of words passed through the stubble and sunshine through my mom down to me. Between my grandmother’s knee to reading to my grandchildren today, there are 50,000 books that changed me and how I see my world. In the 1970’s, she was still reading to learn and was memorizing new pieces to dazzle and entertain an audience. Recently, my mom who is 90, began reciting Kipling’s “If ” around a campfire. The words and verses poured out of her, and she couldn’t recall when she had first learned it. (likely almost 80 years ago).

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

To the end of her life, grandma was certain about many things. She held and lived a life of Christian faith in the Lutheran Church. She held left-leaning political views about government and cooperation. Family, with all its warts, was the most important treasure she had. She saw her world change from breaking land with oxen and pioneering a province and a cooperative movement to international communications and travel. Over the years, she held to tradition where it was relevant and meaningful. She could be stubborn about somethings like God and social action while open to think and adapt to things like music, poetry, and love.

I don’t have nor desire her certainty. I am comfortable living with more ambiguity than should be comfortable. I lean away from tradition even when it might still make sense. I struggle with being compassionate when faced with people and ideas that I abhor. I get to be a provocateur and contrarian because of the life my grandma lived and the world that she left me.

Make Today Remarkable, by leaving today better than it would have been without you,

Bob

One thought on “Left Behind

  1. Hi Bob, I totally identify with your article. My Grandmother was the family’s Matriarch, my role model and my best friend. I’d really enjoyed her stories on how times were in the early 1900’s, the struggle, the unfulfilled daily needs but how she overcomes all with hard work and self-endurance.

    She was 96 at her departure. I missed her very much but always remember and treasure all the good times we have together.

    Thank you for sharing!

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