By Bob Rietz
We recently (finally?) sold our mountain cabin and moved to a condo within walking distance of downtown Asheville, N.C. Moving is traumatic, and demands instant decisions—move an item, sell it in a garage sale, give it to the kids, donate it to a local charity, or discard it.
But moving also unearths forgotten items. I was delighted to find David Holt’s business card from a 2005 actuarial meeting. He gave a memorable luncheon presentation on legacy and encouraged attendees to fill out the legacy cards he left on every table. I wrote the following: “Good father, sense of humor, intellectually curious, and empathy for the less fortunate.” Sadly, I couldn’t add “good husband” because I knew the days of my marriage were numbered. I note there was no mention of professional success.
On a parallel track, I’ve become interested in genealogy and discovered many factoids. Two of my ancestors fought in the Revolutionary War, making my daughters and granddaughters eligible to become members of the Daughters of the American Revolution. Several other ancestors were Union soldiers during the Civil War. My great-grandfather, a carriage driver, emigrated from Germany with his 18-year-old bride immediately before the Franco-Prussian War. Another great-grandfather built a cottage in Chicago on Paulina Street using a hammer and handsaw in 1854. All of his children were born there, but don’t bother looking for the house. The street was razed to make way for an expressway and is now only a footnote in history.
An earlier ancestor packed up his wife and one-month-old daughter in a covered wagon and moved from Ohio to Indiana in 1829. My uncle (and namesake) earned a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago, though he never graduated from high school. My ancestors came from Germany, England, Holland, and France, and my DNA contains traces from Spain, Italy, Greece, and Croatia.
None of my children or grandchildren will know these and other stories unless I tell them.
I never met either of my grandfathers. My grandmothers are a distant memory, though I still vividly remember my father crying at his mother’s funeral when I was young. When my sister and I are gone, our grandmothers will join our grandfathers in being dust in history. No one will remember them, their sacrifices in raising 16 children between them, or anything else in their combined lives that covered 160 years.
Whenever I visit my children and grandchildren, I relate stories about my parents. My father was a lifelong Cubbies fan (who never saw them win a World Series) and had a wicked sense of humor. He worked tirelessly to provide for us and still found time to take me bowling and attend some Little League games (where I was an abject failure). Dad fought in New Guinea but told no stories of his time there.
My mother was a lifelong learner with enormous compassion for underprivileged people. No one could bake as well as she did, and she would make any sacrifice for her children. Mom made it abundantly clear that I was going to college. Period! She would proudly tell anyone who would listen about her son who became an “actuarian,” a term I could never correct. My grandchildren will remember many facets of their lives, despite having never met them.
Twelve years after Holt’s presentation, legacy is beginning to tug at my shirtsleeves. How do I want to be remembered by my children and grandchildren? As an actuary? Doubtful. As a good father—though the time for influencing that has long expired? Hopefully. At last a good husband? I hope Nancy agrees that box can now be checked. A sly sense of humor, love of travel, lifelong learning, and no physical talents were passed down to me, and I see evidence of those traits in my children. Will they tell their children who gave them those attributes?
The sand in my hourglass seems to dwindle more rapidly each day. How do I want to spend the next 24 hours and each 24 hours after that? Golfing and hiking? Teaching, mentoring, and attending continuing education classes? There are so many good books and magazines to read and discuss with friends. How long can my wife and I travel internationally without a tour group? Will I EVER attain conversational competence in Spanish?
But how I’m remembered is my issue to “wrestle to the ground.” What will be your legacy?
Bob Rietz is a retired pension actuary who lives near Asheville, N.C.