I am not typically one to share bad news in this column, but unfortunately, I have some today. Rather than news, it is really more of a fact, and a distressing one at that. The simple truth is: we don’t live forever. As I approach another birthday this weekend, I am reminded of just how quickly time passes. Hours become days, days become months, months become years, and soon you’ve spent a lifetime on this earth. And when our time does come, how will people remember us? I don’t know what they might say (nor am I sure I want to know), but it is plainly clear to me that whatever is remembered about you or me or anyone else will be based on two things: photographs and memories.
Photographs give us a physical description of a person, and through gleaming eyes and a pleasant smile, we can even glean a bit about a soul’s personality, but really it is those memories which provide the greatest insight into who someone was. I am a lover of biographies and though candid photos of the person are helpful, the primary factor which makes a biography enjoyable to read is the recounting of the subject by people who knew him or her, i.e. memories.
My grandmother left this world 10 years ago, a few weeks before my high school graduation. I was blessed with 17 years of knowing her, but of course it wasn’t nearly enough. In her absence, and in the words of singer/songwriter Jim Croce, “Photographs and memories…all that I have left are these to remember you.” When I describe my grandmother to my wife, I can do so only by those photographs and memories. Quite simply, what remains of her on this earth is just that—photographs and memories.
Who was my grandmother? She was a dedicated wife, mother to two sons, and grandmother to three grandsons. She loved to cook and loved to eat even more. I never questioned whether or not she was glad to see me and nothing made her happier than to see her grandsons perusing her refrigerator for a snack. She held me on her lap when I was sick and she gave me a warm hug when I needed it most. But above all, she was and did all these things without ever realizing she was painting a portrait of herself in my mind. Sure, I can look at old photos any time I’d like, but if I really want to remember her, I grab for those memories—not a one of them bad.
A friend of mine likes to say of old times spent with family, “we didn’t know then we were making memories, we just knew we were having fun.” You see, my grandmother didn’t know she was influencing my opinion of her for my lifetime in those short 17 years, she just knew she was loving her grandson. She left an image behind of a woman I love and she left it through memories.
What will people remember about you? What memories are you creating in the hearts of those you love?
Rowena Frieda “Row” Cutright