It’s a big topic. I’ve been procrastinating on this, but it’s time.
It is harvest season. Canning season. Preserving season. I have been busy in my kitchen, trying to channel my inner Barb (my mom). She was an amazing woman. She grew up in the inner city of Detroit and became a Minnesota farm wife. Now that was a steep learning curve! By the time I came along she had it down to a science. She inspires me to try new preserves.
So far this season I have made assorted jams and jellies. But mostly syrup to be honest. How I wish my mom was here to tell me what I can do to get my jelly to be… well…jelly! My herb & garlic tomatoes turned out great, as did my dill pickles, pickled beets, and cinnamon peaches. Which brings me back to the idea of preserves. And preserving a legacy.
A legacy can be good or bad. I have discovered that both can be equally helpful if I respond to them correctly. This is where I need to wade into deeper water. Please understand my heart. I hold no judgement or bitterness from my difficult experiences. I have a deeper perspective now that allows grace to inform my response to hurt.
I’d like to introduce you to my legacy givers.
- My grandfather, Gerrit J Jansma Sr. He was average in stature but great in intellect.
- My Grandmother, Gladys Jansma. She was a one room school teacher before she married.
- My Father, Gerrit J Jansma Jr. My dad inherited the farm from my grandpa. They worked the farm together for many years.
- My Mother, Barbara Jane (Tibbitts) Jansma. Our relationship was complicated some of the time. But the lessons I learned from her stand the test of time and experience.
My grandfather’s legacy is one of quiet strength and wisdom. He rarely spoke in a room full of conversation. He would listen and smile and nod. But when he did speak, the room fell silent so everyone could listen. He had a depth of wisdom that could change opinions on important matters. It was told that he once represented a neighbouring farmer on a legal matter against a wealthy farmer who was attempting to claim some of this man’s land. My grandfather, a dairy farmer, went to court to represent his neighbour, presented his case, and won against the wealthier farmer who was represented by a lawyer. He did that and got home in time for the afternoon milking. As a young man, he was a talented baseball pitcher. He played on a local team, but refused to play on Sundays to honour the Lord’s Day. Not even being pursued by an athletic scout would change his mind. I only wish that Grandpa had been more talkative. I would have loved hearing about his life, his upbringing, his parents. He was a repository of a wealth of information that would have enriched my life had he shared more freely.
My grandmother’s legacy is one of creativity and laughter. I loved going to her house. It had that special “grandma” smell. She kept tiny salt and pepper shakers in the top drawer of her dining room sideboard. I would often open that drawer and inhale the unique scent that was good wood mingled with pepper. Grandma was always up for a good time. My mom once told me of an incident when they were picking apples. The nicest ones were out of reach, so Grandma climbed the tree, took off her shirt, and used it as a sling to put the apples in. She calmly climbed back down, unloaded the apples into the buckets, and put her shirt back on. I’m pretty sure she did it just to horrify my mom. She was an instigator! When her sister, Great Aunt Mary, came to visit, the shenanigans really broke out! They built stilts and walked on them around the farm yard. They invited the local women for an afternoon of coffee and desserts. Grandma said when they all got talking they sounded like a bunch of clucking chickens. She collected anything with a chicken theme and decorated the dining and living rooms for the occasion. Her “Hen Parties” were legendary.
She went sledding with us in the winter. When everyone else took turns on sleds, Grandma brought along a large feed scoop (wide shovel), sat cross legged with the handle out in front of her, and slalomed down the hill, avoiding trees, shrubs and rocks! But once when I asked her about her faith, she wouldn’t talk about it at all. “That’s private and it is inappropriate for you to ask me that.” I wish she felt comfortable opening up that part of her life to me. There was so much more I wanted to learn from her.
My father, also a dairy farmer, had that same quiet strength. He was a good listener. He gave wise advice. He was respected in the community. He nurtured a deep faith in God and was always ready to stop whatever he was doing to share his faith with whomever happened to drive onto the farmyard. He had a temper. It took a bit to make him mad, but you would rarely make that same mistake twice. He loved to laugh, the louder the better. The local high school play director would always reserve seats near the front for my dad because when he laughed so did everyone else! He passed down that laugh to a few of his children, me included. I have often been planted in the midst of a “tough crowd” during a play, and sure enough before long they loosen up and join in the laughter. There were times I struggled with issues with my mom and wished he was there to intervene instead of always in the field, milking cows, or repairing broken machinery. I never felt that he purposely neglected us. I understood he shouldered a big responsibility running a second generation family farm. Although, there was the time mom and I disagreed about a detail while planning my wedding. I looked to dad for support, at which point he quickly rose from his recliner and said “There’s a cow that I need to go check on. Steve (my then fiancée and now husband), you should come too.” And off they went to the barn. Now that was just cowardly, and I told him so!
My mother — wow. She overcame unbelievable obstacles in her young life, and throughout adulthood. She was one of the strongest women I knew. I marvelled at her skills as a farm wife and mother of nine. Because I am number nine, I experienced her as constantly busy with little time for questions or fun. Please understand I don’t say this critically. My upbringing wasn’t devoid of fun. It’s just that I observed more of her struggle than pleasure during that time given the demands of a large family.
My mom suffered from anxiety and bouts of depression. She remained undiagnosed and untreated. The only reason I use those terms now is because I (and some of my siblings) also struggle with either/both conditions on some level. Add this to raising nine kids on a farm income as well as regular debilitating migraines, and it is easy to see how difficult her life could be. I believe that her mental illness and chronic migraine pain created a critical outlook and a short temper. Sometimes she was relaxed and fun to be around, but there were times when anger got the best of her.As a young child, it was hard to read which “mom” I was with, but I knew the day would come when I would be the last kid left at home. Then I would have a chance to build more of a relationship with her. So I waited, and tried my best not to make mom mad in the meantime.
When I was fourteen I became the only child left at home. This was a phenomenon that had not occurred in our family since 1950. I took complete advantage of my new status, as any self-respecting teenager would. I needed a deeper relationship with my parents and for that to happen some things needed to change. I began giving my dad a kiss on the cheek when I said goodnight. I joked more freely with mom. Shopping together transitioned from mom saying “don’t even look at that — you know we can’t afford it” to “that’s a cute dress — I wonder if we can make it?” My parents were less stressed in some ways now that there was only one kid left at home though I stressed them out in other ways, so it may have evened out.
Mom had fewer temper outbursts and I worried less about making her mad. There was always financial strain of some kind, but it didn’t feel overwhelming because it wasn’t continually referenced. Mom taught me how to cook. She taught me how to sew, which I still do as a home-based-business. I had deep bouts of occasional depression during my teens but I felt safe share my feelings with her. Sadly, she had no advice other than “stop feeling that way”. There were days I just couldn’t get up and go to school. She was kind and let me have several “sick days” during my junior year in high school, as long as I stayed caught up on my work. Neither of us realized it at the time, but she was teaching me to allow an occasional mental health day spent in good self care.
My mother’s legacy to me is one of perseverance and service. She didn’t quit no matter how hard things got. Every day she got up and continued to fight whether she wanted to or not. She was constantly serving her church community. She taught me to not simply “go to church”, but rather “be the church” by serving those in need around me. She was a domestic genius and did her best to pass that on to her daughters. I’m still working on achieving my domestic genius status (look out!).
There were some negative legacies. Her tendency toward criticism is probably the biggest thing I had to reverse in myself. Accepting my clinical depression and seeking treatment was another legacy I had to challenge. Mom was not at all comfortable with my decision to take anti-depressants. She thought I was solving my problems with drugs instead of just “getting over it”. I tried to help her understand that the medication helped me function at a level that I had never before experienced. The brain fog and sadness minimized and I was able to cope much more effectively. I don’t think she ever really understood that about me, but I let go of that expectation a long time ago. She’s in heaven — she gets it now.
I have a clear picture of the legacy left for me by my parents and grandparents. What is
legacy? How am I impacting others — an inspiration that lives on when I am no longer present in their situation? What if I don’t need to wait for death in order to leave a legacy? What does that look like?
This is what it looks like for me:
- Smile more. Especially at strangers. Pass on a legacy of joy and acceptance. Thanks for that one, Dad.
- Look for the humour even when things are tough. Laughing is way more fun than crying. Thanks, Grandma.
- Have faith. God will never leave me. God will always provide. Yup — that was my dad.
- Spend more time listening than talking. If they want your opinion they will ask for it. Until then, listen, smile, and nod. Thanks for that, Grandpa.
- Never give up. No matter what. Giving up is not an option. Don’t buy it new if you can sew it yourself for less. Serve others faithfully with great compassion. Thanks Mom. I’m trying. I really am. I hope I can live up to your legacy and pass on all the wonderful things about you to my kids.
And by the way mom, I really want to talk to you about my jelly that won’t gel. And my pickled beets are sour. Not enough sugar? I could google it, but I’d rather have learned it from you. I’ll try to do a better job of preserving my legacy than I am doing with my fruit and vegetable preserves.