Monday, March 09, 2015

The things we leave behind ~ my column from Sunday's paper

There is a cemetery at the end of our road I pass so often that I rarely notice it these days. But last week after Old Man Winter’s visit and it was safe to drive, I headed into the office.

Stopping at the intersection to look for oncoming traffic, I noticed the cemetery as if for the first time. Snow covered the graves like a cotton blanket and I thought to myself, “Is there anything colder than a cemetery in snow?”

The scene reminded me of a tiny spiral-bound notebook I found in the dash pocket of my dad’s old 1978 Chevy truck after he died.

He was not a fearful man. In fact, I don’t recall him ever being afraid of anything, but after his death, I learned that was not true. He was afraid of dying.

He only finished the fifth grade, so his words were not eloquent, but they were poignant. He’d written that he could not stand the thought of “Being laid to rest in the old cold ground.”

Each year he volunteered to work at the cemetery where our people were buried. He also served as a gravedigger long before they used backhoes to scratch graves from the clay.

Although he spent a lot of summers working in the cemetery while he was living, dying weighed on his mind. According to the notebook he left behind, he didn’t look forward to spending eternity in the old cold ground.

As I sat in my idling truck lost in thought, a car eased up behind me and tooted the horn, which brought me back to the present.

On my drive to work, I started thinking about the things we leave behind.

I remembered finding my brother Darrin’s Ray Ban sunglasses at my mom’s house after he died. He loved nice clothes, watches, and sunglasses. The Ray Bans were expensive. Even someone who never knew my brother could look at those glasses he left behind and understand that he enjoyed nice things. I still have those glasses in a case on my dresser.

My Grandpa Ferguson was a thrifty man. He died when I was young and I don’t remember him, but I remember what he left behind.

My mom kept his lavender and white plaid handkerchief with four wheat pennies tied into one corner.

I have no idea why he did that, but the handkerchief was in his pocket when he died.

Mama loved and collected crystal bells and other knick-knacks, which she displayed on her mantle and curio cabinets. Toward the end of her life, she told the kids and grandkids to write their name on nickel-sized stickers and stick them on the things they’d like to have when she died. It was a great way to share the things she left behind.

There is a 1949 Ford tractor in our barn that belonged to my father-in-law Sharky Phillips. He loved tools and things to make his work easier.

Sometimes when I’m down there, I’ll climb up on the old metal seat to think for a while.

Even though it hasn’t been cranked in years, we would never consider selling it because it belonged to Sharky.

We all go through life collecting things along the way.

The people who come after will learn a great deal about us through the things we leave behind.


  1. This was really interesting to read Rick, it made me think about the things my family left behind... I have a huge picture of my family that my mother drew... I am hoping one of my girls will take care of it... things from my grandmother that hold more sentimental value... from me, I am leaving my words in my blog... maybe some pictures... nothing otherwise of importance...

  2. What a thoughtful article. I know how important the things we leave behind can be. I've loved reading my Dad's letters and poems. After my nephew died my sister found a very funny dialog her son had make on the computer. Hearing his voice and remembering his sense of humor brought her comfort. I'm hoping my journals and blog books will bring memories to my kiddos and grandkiddos one day. They probably will shake their heads and wonder what the heck I was thinking! Hope you have a good day with Spring weather. We finally had a 50de day with lots of was heaven!

  3. It is wonderful to find someone who feels as I do. I do not care about what money someone leaves me when they die. But I want some remembrance. It should be something that meant a lot to both of us. I kept my mother's and father's bathrobes.

  4. I know i'm the odd one here, I'm so much the opposite, not that I want to be contrary but I'm not sentimental and unless something is really useful or a beautiful treasure that appeals to me, I don't want it to clutter my life even if it belonged to someone I dearly love.... I think photograph and the written words are the exception. They can be tucked away for the occasional viewing.

    What I want to leave behind is a feeling that I loved with all my heart and that my children and grands felt very loved, cherished and important and equal in my life. If there's something they would love to have, they also can put their name on it for later. I want to be remembered by
    HOW GOOD I MADE THEM FEEL and not for the material I left behind.
    I told you I'm an odd ball. I don't get attached to my possession as I can't take it with me when I pass over to the other dimension. I try to be on the "Ready" to go"... It feels good to get up in the morning to see I'm still here in this crazy world...

    It always feel good to me to reflect on this subject.
    Have a great day,

  5. WE set our thoughts to how we feel. And I wanted to tell you a week or so back in your blog I could see you stopped looking at that cemetery. I could see it. Now adding your thoughts I get the feeling this is such a thought provoking entry, shucks, "I like this 'un".
    My dad only finished the third grade, he was raised on a farm in North Georgia, but he had a heart of Gold. Yep, I enjoyed this visit.

  6. Anonymous12:15 PM

    I've already given most of my jewelry to my (adult) grandchildren, but my grandmother's ring is NOT coming off my finger until I die!! My daughter has dibs on it.

  7. This made me think of my family and things that have been left behind, my dad found his grandfathers sketch pad after his father passed and has kept it the man could draw and no one knew...............

  8. Bittersweet! This evokes so many memories, Rick. Your words have stayed with me all day.


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