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Sunday, June 1, 2003

Memory helps sustain father's legacy



Russell Thomas: Local Voices

Last weekend my mom, my brothers, my sisters, and I got together to start settling my dad's estate. Not something I had looked forward to, or wanted to do, but something that needed to be done.

I'm 43 years old. My dad was 69 when he died, and had suffered from emphysema for 10 years. I still wasn't ready for it. But I suppose that if tragedy only happened when we were ready, tragedy wouldn't happen at all.

One if the reasons that I didn't want to divide the estate was greed. I wanted it all. Like any collection, it represented the whole. What each of the children got is a partial, like the view through a kaleidoscope that only shows some of the colors and shapes.

After this past weekend, the whole is lost, and only the parts remain.

Each of us took what we most valued, what would most remind us of the man we lost. We also lost what reminded us most of the man. But that had to be.

The other reason isn't as simply stated. I suppose I believed that as long as we left things as he had left them, he would be back. My logical side knows that's impossible, but emotion is not sensible, and emotion is always stronger than rational thought. What my emotion wanted was a shrine.

But, it doesn't do to create shrines to what we've lost. It's much more profitable to build foundations for the future than shrines to the past. But the past is the foundation of the future. Where do we draw the line? I wish I knew.

I would have liked to have had my grandkids meet my dad, and their kids, and another generation after that. The man my eldest son called "The World's Greatest Grandpa."

In some respects, I would have liked to have met him myself.

One of the attractions of the movie Back to the Future is being able to meet your parents as an equal, as a teenager. Meeting them adult-to-adult has the same allure.

My dad and I spent almost every Sunday morning together from August 1996 until February of 2003. We talked about his past, my past, my future, the future of the world, but never really man to man, like I would have a friend from work.

We enjoyed those mornings, don't mistake that, but I, and I think he also, always assumed we had more time. We didn't.

I know what he thought about the West Bank. I know what he thought about Pat Buchanan. I know what he thought about work ethic, alcohol and cigarettes. I know what he thought about my opinions on all of these subjects. But what did he think about me?

I know he loved me and thought the world of my ham-and-cheese omelets, at least for a Sunday breakfast. And I know from the way he bragged about me to my brothers and sisters that he was proud of me, and my accomplishments.

When he was alive, that was enough. Now, it's not.

Now all I've got to contend with are the bit and ends, bits of the past, and the ends of a legacy.

It's now my job to become the creator of the foundation, just as my dad did, and his dad did, and so on, on back. Lord, I hope I'm ready.

I can recall my grandpa and grandma's hugs. My youngest sister was born years after they died. My children will probably remember their grandpa. My sister's kids will never know he existed, unless we remind them. And I shall.

Legacy isn't what, it's who. Who will carry the legacy and perpetuate it.

My youngest son is named after his great-great-great-grandpa, and he knows it. One hundred and fifty years of history, bridged in a single individual.

Someone doesn't have to breathe to be alive, just remembered.

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Russell Thomas, Melbourne, Ky., is a freelance writer and government employee. Thomas is a member of the Enquirer's Local Voices panel, which contributes columns to the opinion pages twice a week.




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