This I Believe

Amy - Denver, Colorado
Entered on May 17, 2006
Age Group: 30 - 50

Legacy Comes from Everyday Acts

“Coriander lifted the gossamer shadow out of the Girl Scout cookie box because the science fair was Thursday and she’d lost her swimming goggles.”

I was sleep reading, wringing the fabric of my consciousness to free a few more words out into the night. My daughter Poet was begging for the bonus chapter. “Wait and see what happens next” could not quench the eight-year-olds urgency to know. It was bordering on torture. Can Social Services be summoned for failure to read an extra chapter?

Piper, my four-year-old daughter, cuddled close in slumber. I could forfeit that chapter finale, cozy up to Piper, smell her breath, and fall asleep. But, I gave my word.

I’ve been reading chapter books to Poet since she was two. We started with My Father’s Dragon. I read eighty pages first round, until laryngitis took hold. The pages eventually broke in my mustang vocal cords and I became the Pony Express of bedtime reading. We’d gallop into the night, into the wilds of unexplored chapters, and return home half asleep in the saddle. Reading to children is better than therapy. I always feel better no matter how dark the day. It’s remarkable how deep this simple act fills the most basic of human desires.

Reading has taken me all over this world and it knows no time. I was hanging with miners in nineteenth century Colorado when it happened.

A fledgling driver ran a stop sign and struck my Pathfinder en route home from the grocery store. Had my family been with me this would be a very different story. My car was airborne and landed upside down. I survived with immediate neck and back injuries and deep bruising in bizarre regions. I soon learned that, what I thought was a reaction to painkillers and muscle relaxants, was a mild traumatic brain injury. Mild, meaning I didn’t need to go to an institution.

Sudden death is a disappearing act. Since you don’t plan on it, there are interrupted traces; a nightgown on the bathroom floor, lists half checked. Besides that, what would I have left behind? I was 35. My husband and I had our wills prepared. But I had not intentionally left anything for the future generations that I already love so dearly.

Legacy came to mind and it was overwhelming. I had not struck it rich in the NASDAQ or got in on the starting floor of a now public company. I was a mother who took a few years out to be with her children. Nothing else. So I walked about with the idea of legacy being akin to building the Great Wall of China upon my damaged shoulders.

During this time, I recall hearing a world leader say that reading was the one thing he could not live without. I wept knowing the feeling and it hurt more than one might imagine. Millions have fought desperately for the opportunity to read and for their children to read. Children are sounding out syllables right now.

But I wasn’t reading. Months went by. The injuries put me in a state where I couldn’t make sense of it. Eventually I learned to live in the moment of a single sentence, forget it, and move to the next. I started reading to my daughters again. They were enthusiastic memory banks. We’d begin by recapping the previous night’s read.

But, independent reading remained elusive. In search, I went to the classics. Huckleberry Finn was confusing, even though I knew the story and vernacular so well. The start and stop chapters of nonfiction worked, but the concentration brought headaches. That sounds melodramatic. But my injuries mustered headaches from watching snow fall. I rushed home to throw up after my daughter’s spring recital. Over stimulation happened quickly and spiraled into headaches leaving me helpless for hours, sometimes days.

Then one night it happened. I lie in my bed wishing for that extra chapter. So, I snuck in and read it alone. The following night, I read the next book in queue and switched gears to the 8-12 year old fictional category. Never mind that it was a literary level below the adolescent who plowed his mother’s car into me, I started eating through those books.

Piles of books began to grow in my daughter’s room, my office, and my bedroom. I was building my legacy, a children’s library. Paper pockets and date cards came from an educational supply store. I laminated book jackets to help them endure time. No cellophane path of book covers for me. I could only imagine the attempt ending with a cellophane knot of no undoing wrapped about my waist.

The collection is growing, as are the names on the date cards and the books are developing their own histories.

My dad will soon build the bookshelves. He will make the 800-mile trip with a load of oak planks that once was an old barn on my grandfather’s farm. The farm with the fish pond where we picked wild gooseberries, hunted for morels, and rode on the green tractor built the year I was born.

Legacy is a big word that can throw a monumental shadow. But, legacy does not require great resources and wealth. I hope that someday, a child will pick up a book, look at its date card, see the generations before them, and take a new night’s ride out into an old story.