Wednesday, July 21, 2010

One Man's Legacy

"To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty, to find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because you lived. This is to have succeeded."
- Ralph Waldo Emerson -

I love this photo of my grandfather (thank you Mom for lending it to me).  It was taken in the 70's long before he became frail.  My grandfather left behind a treasure trove of memories; and those things are his legacy to me.

I've talked a lot about Westport, NY, the little village on Lake Champlain, and some of the things that made it so special.  But, if it were not for my grandparents, this little dot on the New York State map, would not have so great a meaning.

Raymond C. Clark was a Latin teacher by profession and later an assistant principal at the local high school.  He was a traveler, an author, a painter, and a gardner.  He was a husband, a father, and to me, a grandfather.  I don't mean to say he was perfect, I'm sure he had his flaws, he was, but a man, after all; but, he was perfect, to me.

I'm lucky enough to have a few things in my home as a remembrance of him.  And each item brings to mind a different memory.  In this photo, is my grandparents dressing table.  When my grandmother sold their home and split up some of the pieces of furniture, this was an item I selected.  It always graced their bedroom for, I imagine, their entire married life. 

My grandfather set his own pace for doing things, and I can remember mid morning going upstairs and watching him shave at this table.  I can still hear the soft humming of that electric razor in my mind, though it's been so many, many years.
As an "artist", my grandfather painted things that were familiar to him and his native area.  Two of my favorite paintings he did were of the lake.  One was the foundation of a boathouse with the lake in the background, and the other was of a rowboat tied to a dock.  I do have one of his paintings.  It is of a little farm nestled in the mountains of Vermont.  I believe he painted it as a Christmas gift for my Mother.

One of the other treasures he left behind is his book, A View of Westport, NY.  In the book, he details some of the history of his hometown covering the years 1902 - 1972.  It is full of vivid descriptions of a town he clearly loved.  There are period photos of historic buildings, the marina, famous steamships, and of course the lake.  I was gifted with a copy of his book the year I graduated from high school.  On the page, next to the title page, he wrote an inscription, "Dear Heather I am sure this little capsule of history will sound like fiction to you but, this is the way it was when I was younger than you! Love, Your Grandpa Clark December 25, 1984."  Later, years after he'd been gone, the Westport Chamber of Commerce obtained permission from my Mother and my Aunt Sandy to reprint his book for the 2001 Westport Heritage Festival.  

More importantly than any of these things was the person he was and what he meant to me.   How do you describe someone you cherish?  Someone you look up to?  Someone who meant the world to you?  I can still hear him say, "Heather, why don't you turn the light on", as I would read in the evening seated on the antique victorian sofa.  "That's OK Grandpa, I'm fine".  And with that, he would get up out of his chair, come over, and silently turn the light on.  Without a word, he showed he cared.  

When my sister and I were children, we'd often watch "Laugh In" on TV in the den of my grandparent's home.  There was a skit, that would come on, with one of the actresses sitting on a bench holding her handbag tight.  In the skit, an old man would approach her and she would hit him with her handbag.  We used to replay this skit over and over again with my grandpa.  My sister and I would chase him around the house with my grandmothers old purses.  I can still see the smile on his face and hear his laughter as we would bombard him with blows from the purses.  He never seemed to tire of our game and was always a good sport.

Thunderstorms were always a treat on the lake.  You could sit on the back porch, which was covered, and watch the storm roll in.  I remember one particular conversation with my grandfather as we listened to the thunder and watched the lighting strikes.  He told me the rolling thunder was God rolling his bowling ball down a lane and the big crack of thunder was when He got a strike.  I often recount this story to my son when it thunders in hopes of easing his fear of the storm. 

My grandfather's legacy goes beyond his book, his paintings and any inherited piece of furniture.  His legacy lays in the time he spent with me, the love he showed, and the relationship we built through the years.  I love you Grandpa and your legacy lives on; you succeeded.

In loving memory of my grandfather, Raymond C. Clark (1908 - 1992).