The Turkey Bag

For some of the early readers of this blog, now almost five years ago,
You may remember this story as the first essay that I posted. It was the
Story that prompted me to think about the idea of “Legacy” in the first
Place and seemed a very appropriate start to this on-line adventure. Now
With more than 100 essays on line, and thousands of readers from across
The globe, this adventure has taken on a life of it’s own. With all of that
Said, I became aware this past week that a few of the earliest essays had somehow
Been erased or eliminated on the blog due to a maintenance error, so I needed to
Get this special story back up on line as my first priority! I hope that you enjoy it!

The story goes…in the summer of 1998, my grandmother—Lakie
Pearl Hill—became aware that she was about to die. Lakie was born
in April of 1901, and she lived for 45 or 50 years on her own in
White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia in a little house on 16 Mill
Hill Drive. She lived on a C&O Railroad pension.

I never knew she didn’t have very much. I just knew she was the
wisest person in my life. And she was a rascal—the 11th of 13
children of William Bryson Hill…(my son Bryson is named after
him.) He was a vagabond, a frontier scout, a silver miner, and a
Postmaster. He was a kind of outdoorsman—a trailblazer.
But Ma Ma, as she was known by all the family members, was 97
years old and she knew she was not long to live. My son Bryson
had just been born, and we as a family went to go to see her—because
she wanted to see everybody before she passed.

It was a powerful experience—the only time in my life that I’ve been with
someone aware of and reconciled to die. A long life, but she was still very,
very sharp. Her body was just about done.
My Aunt Lorraine (who is famous for Lorraine’s Law—“Take small
bites and chew thoroughly,” which is a whole separate story) and
I went to see Ma Ma in July of ‘98. We went to that little house in
White Sulphur Springs, and she’d be awake for a few hours and
then asleep— three hours on and three
or four hours off. Aunt Lorraine and I were there for two days.

What was so powerful about the experience was that she wanted
to remember things from our lives. It’s a lesson to remind yourself
—when you’re about to die, when you’re about to leave this
world…there wasn’t a single thing on her mind about stuff…or
things. There was nothing about houses or cars, or money or jewelry
or anything. What she wanted to talk to everyone about was people
and memories.

I remember sitting by her bed one afternoon, and she was asking
Lorraine “Do you remember your sister Arlene, Bill’s mom? And
that great day when she got married…and how beautiful she was?
(My mom died in 1974.) “Do you remember the day Billiam (her
nickname for me) was baptized? He just screamed like he was stuck
with a pin.” “Yes, Ma Ma, I remember…”
And it would go like that. And it was unbelievable. It was so teary
and emotional but I knew it was a meal you wanted to taste every
bite of. And it was something I’ll never forget.

That afternoon she turned her attention to me and we talked about
some of the memories of the things we did together. She said
“Billiam, do you remember coming and having Thanksgiving
with me?” And I said “Yes, Ma Ma I do…that was when I was
back in college…” She says “Do you remember what you brought
with you?”
Now, this was the summer of ’98 and my grandmother who’s about
to die was remembering me coming to see her for Thanksgiving in
November of 1981. And I was barely remembering this. Because I
was a college junior, and there were a lot of things going on…not
a lot of which I was remembering so clearly. So I said “Well Ma
Ma, if I remember right, I think I brought a turkey.”
“Yes, you did! Yes, you did Billiam, you brought a turkey, and that
was a fine turkey at that meal. Do you remember we had it for our
Thanksgiving meal, and I made turkey hash that next morning,
and we had turkey sandwiches that next day?”
“Yes, Ma Ma, I do remember that.” I’m not positive I remembered
that turkey hash, but I wanted to, that’s for certain!

Then she said, “Well Billiam, do you remember what that turkey
came in?” Now at this point I stretched my mind because I had the
decision to make whether I was going to lie to her or not. I had no earthly
recollection of what that turkey came in. And how could I? Seventeen
years ago…I barely remember what I had for lunch yesterday!

“No, Ma Ma, I’m so sorry. I don’t remember at all. What did that
turkey come in?” She said, “Well Billiam, it came in a bright yellow plastic mesh bag.

“Ma Ma, that’s incredible” I said. How can you remember that?”
“Well what you don’t realize, Billiam, is that when you left and
went back to college, I took that bag and cut it up into small squares
and tied the corners of those squares with plastic twine. I used those
squares to scrub my pots for a decade. And I always thought about you and
that great time we had together!”

It was hard to bear…the emotions of all this…I remember just breaking
down. And she said, “You know Billiam, that meant a lot
to me…”

That was the first time I learned about leaving a legacy. Because I
had no idea of what I had done. And yet to Ma Ma, she’d scrub
her pans each night and she’d remember that meal. She remembered
a legacy that I had left without really knowing it or planning it!

The truth is that we all are leaving legacies, everyday, some unintentional
like the turkey bag, and some very intentional.
I tell this story to people because…not just to remember my grandmother,
although I do want to do that…but to ask how much we’re
leaving behind that we have no idea about? Are they the things we
want to leave? Are we leaving the legacy we want to leave?

I’m proud of the fact that Ma Ma used those pot scrubbers for 10
years. I’m humbled to think that she remembered that long ago
Thanksgiving visit so sweetly. I’m also inspired to think about all
the lasting images that we are leaving behind everyday…with our friends,
our families, our workmates and our teams.

Remember Ma Ma and take a second to think about what you’re leaving behind…what are
your legacies?