Legacies don’t always involve property and monetary wealth.
A few weeks ago, while visiting my son and his family in Michigan, I found out what one of mine is, and it pleased me greatly.
I was packing the morning of my departure to drive back to New York when I spotted something that stopped me in my tracks. It was a children’s book laying on a desk in the guest room. I picked it up and excitedly pointed it out to my daughter-in-law as a much-requested book by my children at bedtime years ago: “Just Go to Bed” by Mercer Mayer.
Flipping through the pages, I could nearly recite it word for word, remembering the different voices I used to make it more interesting for my three. Maia said Pete ordered it online to read to their 4-month-old son, Leo.
I felt gratified that the nightly ritual of reading aloud to my kids was being passed along like a baton in a relay race, on to the next generation. Not only that, but favorite stories were being brought forward as well. At that moment I felt as if I had done something right as a parent.
My mother’s parents were busy dairy farmers in Pennsylvania with no free time to read to their children. They worked from dawn to after dark milking cows and running a poultry business. They counted on Mom and her siblings to not only take care of the housekeeping and cooking, but to do outdoor chores as well. It was a life without frills.
In contrast, Mom faithfully read to us each night after we got into bed: the three boys in their bunk room and we three girls in ours. Our great-aunts back East subscribed us to the Weekly Reader books, chapter books we dearly loved. Mom sat in the doorway between the bedrooms and read by the light of the kitchen.
No matter how we begged, she would read just one chapter, unless it wasn’t a school night and then we got two. It was Dad’s habit to pluck the book from her hands after she was done, retreat to his easy chair, and read ahead if the story was really exciting.
It was a wonderfully delicious feeling to be snuggled under our covers, listening to her voice, expanding the world past our small house on the mountain. The winter winds faded away as we hung on every word from each page that she turned.
Fifty-plus years later, I can shut my eyes and imagine myself lying next to my sister – with whom I had to share a bed – listening to Mom take us on a nightly adventure. It was her priceless gift to us.
My grandson is very young, but he gets bedtime stories as well. During my visit, Maia asked if I’d like to do the honor of reading to him. Truthfully, I felt a little silly at first reading to a baby, but as I started my mother’s favorite, “The Little Red Hen,” I relaxed into my storytelling mode. The familiar words nearly brought tears to my eyes as I grasped the river of life –the mother I learned to love reading from has passed on but her legacy continues.
Down the road, when Leo is old enough for a sleepover at Grandma’s house, I’ll have my own copy of “Just Go to Bed” and will read it to him like I did when his Daddy was a little boy.
My mother never got the chance to meet Leo, but she would be glad that his parents are giving him the gift of being read to, a legacy that costs nothing.