by Ben N on June 24, 2017


What does LEGACY mean? To some, it might be computer software that still needs to be supported, even though it’s old. To others, it might be something you think about with retirement planning. To me, it’s always just meant what we leave behind, our footsteps in the sand.

This last week, I had plenty of time to think about legacy, as we dropped everything and hopped in the car for a 2,000 mile+ road-trip to New York State and back for my wife’s grandmother’s funeral.

IMG_2112Caroline Yawney was 99 years old when she died. She outlived her husband, her son, and nearly everyone else of her generation. She was a feisty old Polish lady who smoked most of her life and knew that no recipe ever had enough butter in it.

With her age, death was expected. None of us were surprised at that. The funeral was a small gathering of family. It was always good to see everyone, despite the circumstances.

Beyond the funeral, it was mostly stories from relatives.
Whether family tales with an uncle over a beer in the hotel lobby late at night, or the actual eulogy itself, it was all stories.
Stories of making ethnic foods. Stories of childhoods and what it was like to grow up with her as a mother. Thanks to modern technology, the dearly departed could even tell her own story. An uncle had filmed Grandma Caroline with his smart-phone, and asked her about some tales from her past. Right there, over cold-cuts and coffee at the wake, we were able to hear the shocking story of a Great Aunt’s shotgun marriage. Something I had never heard before, and never would have without that iPhone and some fore-thought.

An aunt made the famous Chocolate Cake that Grandma was known for. Even without the woman, the recipe survives and we could literally eat that legacy.

Beyond that, there was only three boxes of posessions at the nursing home, including the flag from my father-in-law’s military honors at his funeral, plenty of rosaries, and family photos.

My wife once asked her grandmother what it was like to live in the world today. After all, Grandma was born nearly a century ago, and it’s been the greatest century of change the world has ever known. Cars, computers, airplanes, telephones. Grandma replied “I don’t even recognize the world any more.”

But there’s plenty of things that do stay the same: family, traditions, and story-telling.

IMG_5327Our daughter got to meet many relatives for the first time. Plenty of them already knew her through social media and online photographs, but finally got to see her in person. We also met my brother-in-law’s family there, who has a daughter the same age. It’s both strange and wonderful to see young children at a funeral. They don’t fully understand everything, and yet they sometimes seem to make more sense of it than the rest of us do. It’s good to see that even while someone passes away, that the family carries on. Cue the music, recall the scene in THE LION KING where the lion cub is held up by the monkey, but it’s all true, even though it feels cheesy to actually say so. The circle of life, and all that…

IMG_5343Besides the situation of the funeral, it was neat to be in upstate New York. Just last weekend, I was showing off my General Electric Elec-Trak lawn and garden tractor at the MREA Energy Fair. Stamped right on the tractor is “Made in Schenectady, NY” – the exact town we were visiting. In fact, both my wife’s father AND grandfather worked their entire careers for G.E. Unfortunately, I didn’t even know what an Elec-Trak was until after they had both passed away. Perhaps they worked in that exact building, or were best friends with somebody who worked on that very assembly line. I wish I had those stories. It’s too bad that I’ll never know. Still, I feel a certain kinship with my wife’s departed family members every time I mow the lawn, on a legacy piece of equipment, built before I was even born.

IMG_5365On our ride home, we got to stop at the Triple Cities Makerspace, in Binghampton, NY. The collaborative workspace is a place for hobbyists creators, but they also have a huge emphasis on teaching and public education, including a dedicated classroom at the space. It was a pleasure to speak with Steve there about the origins of their space, and the story of what it took to make happen. Like the Milwaukee Makerspace, the story was one of people working together, wanting to share and learn and make.

Every day, we all make our own legacies. I try what I can, learning, teaching, sharing. Even at the Triple Cities Makerspace, the Little Girl set to work building an “invention” in the craft lab. She was making it from shoe-laces, tracings of maple leaves, rubber bands, and a golf tee. In the end, it became a pretty cool tie-on sandal. I hope that her view of the world is part of my legacy.

In the end, all we really have is stories. Whether those are stories of great-grandparents, stories of road-trips and electric lawn mowers, or the stories we create living our lives every day.

It’s our story. Let’s make it a good one.


{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Randy June 24, 2017 at 5:00 pm

Very nice article Ben; Makes me think of my grandmother and aunt who lived in the hills of West Virginia well into their late nineties and all of the stories they told our family around the fireplace.

2 howard olsen June 25, 2017 at 7:37 am

Nice job, Ben…………….you seem to be the type of young man that I would be proud to be “best buds”with…………..as it is, I am a couple of generations removed, and reading/enjoying your various posts is the best I can do.

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