Give of yourself and Take care of yourself

How was your Christmas?  What did you get?

Imagine having the physical strength of Superman, the intellect of Stephen Hawking, the insight of Socrates, the compassion of Mother Teresa, and the money of Bill Gates.  Just kidding on the Bill Gates reference… ok, not kidding.  But… seriously.  Imagine, please, on the other things, at least.  These traits are exaggerations that belong to famous people that will be remembered by the public.  But what about common folk; like you, the reader, and me?  What will the people we have touched remember about us?

Lately during the Christmas season, I have been surrounded by things that scream, “LEGACY!”

In case you’re wondering, watching mass amounts of Christmas movies; such as, “Its a Wonderful Life,” “A Christmas Carol,” “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” and “A Christmas Story” will seriously melt your brain tissue into a bubbling, lava-like substance.  The side effects are writing highly emotional and semi-meaningful blogs that seem to go on endlessly driving one to mutter, “What is your point?”

I recently emptied a full self-storage unit into my living room.  Not a wise thing to do if you have a really nice living room, but I really don’t have a really nice one right now; so, I don’t feel too badly of the explosion of moldy stuff in my house.  This 10′ x 10′ storage unit was filled to ceiling back in June of 2001 after I moved from the 3-bedroom townhouse I rented for seven years in DeKalb, IL back into my parents’ house; the same house I grew up in.  At the time, they certainly did not have the space to accommodate all my stuff.

Over the past ten years, I lost both parents and my grandmother, bought the house, got married with three lovely step-daughters, and now this up-coming year I am looking down the barrel of my second divorce.  When lives get turned upside-down, one tends to lose integrity and loads of money.  With the wife and daughter out of my house and on their own; they are struggling to make ends meet.  The lost benefit for me of a second income in this economy has really hit my bottom line.  My modest and decent income as an engineer for a nationally known company is gratefully continuing to flow in; but the out-flow is way more than what is coming in.  In an attempt to stop the bleeding, that money sucking storage unit was the first on the budget chopping block.  And that is how all of it’s contents have landed in my living room.

And what does one find in a time capsule?  The past.  Imagine opening your life history with each box of papers, books, photos, and collection of stuff.  There are boxes with records of my income and spending.  There are boxes of my son’s toys he loved to play with and books we loved to read.  There are boxes of old sports gear I wore before and during my high school years.  There are boxes with papers that carry collections of my thoughts, feelings, and learning from another obsolete decade.  There are pictures of trips I’ve taken and people I forgot ever existed.  There are even love letters from the girlfriends of my past.  Sigh.

Sorting through all this stuff will take some time.  I’m not the fastest “sorter” to begin with, and I wasn’t blessed with the gift of organization.  I can spend too much time looking through the “looking glass”.

The Looking Glass Self

The Looking Glass

During the warmer months when my Harley-Davidson motorcycle makes its home in my garage, I will take weekend jaunts to Mount Emblem Cemetery in Elmhurst, IL to give a homage shout-out to the folks and paternal grandparents.  Not to be play favorites, I often wondered about my maternal grandparents’ burial site.  Its a little embarrassing to think I have yet to visit their grave site since they passed during the 90’s.  In the spirit of getting things done, I asked my Auntie Ree back in the spring of 2011 where to find the site.  Her directions were tested after many years of not visiting herself, but she had an idea and I figured close is good enough for me; I would find them.  On the Memorial Day holiday, I decided to take a trip on my Harley to Mount Carmel Cemetery.  The sun was scorching that day.  In full riding gear (for me); mock-turtle neck long-sleeve pull over, jeans, leather jacket, and boots, I walked a half-acre section where my aunt thought the stone could be.  Nope.  I had to leave or surely I would melt.  I realized cemeteries can be much larger than one might think.

A few days after Thanksgiving 2011, my cousin, Tina accepted my friend request on Facebook.  Why?  Because after three years of not “being friends,” I thought perhaps it was time.  If for any reason, that was it…. time.  Tina and her family were all once visible on my Facebook friend’s list until I cut them off.  Not wanting to get into all that; I decided to request back their friendship, and they all accepted.  On December 22nd, Tina posted a photo of our grandparents’ grave stone marker with some hesitation because of not knowing how the other family members would feel about seeing it.  Without blinking an eye, I was the first to rejoice with knowledge that someone can give me definite directions to that very spot on earth that I was looking for.  Tina used her SmartPhone to photograph a map of where and how to get there.  I was very pleased.

"Scanio Headstone"

My grandparent's grave marker

The snow-less day after Christmas, while the sun was shining bright low in the south against a vast blue sky, I went to Mount Carmel cemetery in Hillside, IL and easily found the names of my mother’s parents on a large piece of reddish-brown granite.  I took some pictures for my very own.  I wished them Christmas blessings.  I asked forgiveness for not being the best grandchild I could have been.  And lastly, prayed they watch over all of us from Heaven.  My grandfather had a reputation of being more like the “hard-love” male figure in the family.  So, I smiled and pictured a swift backhand from him to the head of those “brats” in my family that so desperately in need of one.

The wind was blowing steadily and creating a chill to my face, ears, and hands.  I surveyed the area, examined the neighbors, and after sharing a final good-bye, I hurried back to the warmth of my car.  But the cold was not enough to stop me from slowly touring the paths of this old and majestic cemetery.  The huge numbered sections are lined with towering and exorbitant grave markers.  There are rows of crypts with names boldly engraved above the door.  And the names of the deceased popped out at me as if I have heard each one as if each were a part of my family over the years.  I made some stops for more photos.

I left there with a feeling like I want to come back and explore.  I took a right turn out of the cemetery exit and headed to whatever road I recognized that would bring me back north on the west side of of the tollway.  I now planned a visit to Mount Emblem and the Carlstroms buried there.  The afternoon sun was quickly dipping westward and the chill was getting chillier.  I took one pretty photograph when I pulled into the cemetery and my visit to the site was one I have seen often.  I already have a picture or two of the newer grave marker with the four Carlstroms’ names on it; Henry, Florence, William, and JoAnn.  The original Carlstrom head stone, still in the ground about 10′ feet away was green from age and half of it sunk into the ground.  Yes, there are two.  So, the camera stayed in my pocket.  I said my prayers, admired some of the nearby flower arrangements, and once again sought the warmth inside my car.  Those fir branch “blankets” covering the graves

An Example of a Fir Grave Blanket

with the red flowers is very festive and nice looking.  Maybe someday I’ll spring for a couple… even though, well, you know.

On Christmas Eve 2011, I invited myself to another cousin’s house that lives about an hour away from me, so that I could enjoy a little human interaction and family togetherness on Christmas.  The wife and daughter flew away to spend the holidays with her family, which I could not blame her for doing at all.  However, I guess the thought of me being alone on Christmas Eve with four dogs in a disheveled home was just a little too much excitement for me.  The party was a simple gathering.  My cousin, Patty, her husband, Tom, and two kids, well-known in the neighborhood for their parties, scaled way down for this night of celebration with my cousin’s dad, Dave, my sister, Karina and her husband Brad, and two recently graduated from high school kids in attendance.  The holiday menu was “make-your-own-pizzas.”

They own a tri-level type home; where guests enter through the front door to the open plan middle-level living room which also has the kitchen and dining room separated by an island.  Up the short staircase on the left leads to the bedrooms and large bathroom.  Down the short staircase on the right takes one to the large family room, an office area, and bathroom.  One of first HD (high definition) flat screen televisions I ever saw belonged to my cousin and they found an interesting spot where as to view it; above the down staircase.  The island has seating around the outer side of the kitchen, so the blending of kitchen, living, and dining rooms is nicely entwined without over-encroaching on any space.

With everyone mingling about; whether in the kitchen, at the island or in the living room, the TV is in view and as with most parties in my family, it becomes in an integral part of the evening.  For the majority of the time, the NFL professional football game between the Detroit Lions and the San Diego Chargers was playing in the background to the amusement of the men.  But there was a program on the TV that followed the game in which Detroit pummeled the Chargers 38 to 10.  I remember Tom changed the channel to “Its a Wonderful Life,” that Christmas classic movie starring James Stewart and Donna Reed.  Patty was furious and insisted he find something else.  I’m glad I didn’t interject or I might have had to dodge an object flung at my head.  But some other program was chosen to her satisfaction and while we enjoyed the homemade pizzas, the TV filled the room with its ambient noise.  But as with most televisions in a party setting, they have a way of capturing the attention of one or two people in the room and the whole group within eye and ear-shot like a pack of prairie dogs turn their heads in curiosity of what is on the set.

The segment being played was about some of the celebrities who died during the past year.   We all watched and we made random comments as a name and a picture would cross the screen; comments of remembrance, comments of disgust, comments of reverence, or comments of who-cares.  And immediately with little prodding, I thought how come these people get our recognition at the time of their death?  The media will show the faces and names of those who entertained us, those that sang to us, those that manned the cameras, the booms, and the lights.  These people played sports or they starred in movies a long time ago.  And we are drawn to that as if they literally made a difference in our lives.

My thoughts went to my sister’s husband, Brad.  His mom died unexpectedly just this past summer.  She landed in the hospital after a serious illness.  The doctors found something, and within a week her soul left this planet.    This was his first Christmas without her.  At her visitation service, Brad and the preacher spoke about her and her lasting effect on others.  I never knew of her work with the church food pantry and service to those in need.  Maybe her name and photo should grace the television set.

On Christmas Day, I cried for the little 12-year old Amish girl accidentally killed by a stray bullet to her head fired over 1-1/2 miles away.  I cried for a family in Connecticut that perished in a house fire.  It is sad.  It is much too sad for Christmas.

Awright, ENOUGH!  What’s my point?  My point is that before we end up in the ground, it would be nice to leave a legacy of some kind.  Will I be known for my physical strength, or my intellect?  Will there a be a legacy of money left behind for my heirs?  Will I be remembered for my character or maybe my sense of humor?  I figure I can start worrying about this for a long time.  At this point in my life, I don’t much runway to get my aircraft off the ground.

When I thought about Scrooge making up for lost time, he started throwing his money around.  It went to good causes, but why would anyone take the old goat seriously about his new attitude or changed demeanor.  The Grinch took the materialistic things away from the Who’s and they figured out how to have a Merry Christmas without those things.  Still, the Grinch has a long way to go to in my book to gain their trust.  George Bailey saw everyone else’s life has if he had not been born.  That totally freaked him out; and surely he had a new appreciation for his family, friends, and life.

My contemplation of these events have led me to centralize my thoughts to the core of my being; to be responsible for who you are and what you do.  What did I get for Christmas?  Nothing I can unwrap.  And I came to this conclusion;

Life is about give and take….
And if you want to do it right;
Give of Yourself, and Take Care of Yourself

It is pretty simple, you will be happy and people will remember you.

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