A Legacy

Four years ago my mother’s oldest brother died. He had led a remarkable life, but in his old age his mind began to fail him. He never had children, although he had many nieces and nephews to whom he left his estate. The settlement of that estate took years for weird, Dickensian reasons. If you are familiar with the novel Bleak House, you’ll get an idea of the ins and outs of the process of distributing Uncle Bob’s worldly goods. His estate was finally settled, and his  legacy was bequeathed, but not without a whole lot of weirdness.

My father’s older sister died in the early summer, the last of a large family of brothers and sisters. She passed quietly in her sleep at the age of ninety-eight. She was the mother of my favorite cousins, the matriarch of an incredibly close family  who gathered every Sunday for feasting and sharing. These people understand my sense of humor because they have it too. My aunt was one of the greatest cooks on the planet. Ask anyone who knew her. The pastor who officiated at her funeral nailed it: “When Virginia meets Jesus, he’ll say, ‘You’ve earned your rest. Sit here beside me, and we’ll talk.’ And she will reply, ‘If you want to talk with me, we can do it in the kitchen. People are coming, and they have to be fed.’” Yep, that’s Aunt Virginia.

My close friend died a little over a year ago, killed by a speeding felon who hit her car. Mari’s greatest legacy, in my opinion, is the many, many people she taught how to ride a horse with skill and confidence. She taught people to love horses and how to care for them. Because of her, I fox hunted in Ireland and rode a horse over a three-foot-six-inch fence without dying. Besides teaching, my friend rescued countless animals, large and small. Those of us who remember her and miss her feel grateful for her legacy.

My stepmother died of cancer this summer. We had a rocky start but became really good friends over the years. I missed her during the pandemic when getting together got tougher. I will continue to miss her now that she’s gone, miss our conversations and time together.

A compelling reason for creating anything, for teaching anyone, for having children, is to leave something behind—to create a legacy. We often don’t have a say in how what we leave behind is interpreted. I’m sure there are people who were monsters but thought they were doing good things. They are the ones we damn for their legacy. Others may think they failed, but as time goes on, that proves to be incorrect. Georges Bizet died thinking Carmen, was a flop, and so it was at first. Now it is one of his most beloved works.

I think perhaps we should be kinder to ourselves. While we can do our best to do good things, to create, teach, raise children, care for animals, work for the welfare of our planet, leave money to our heirs; in the end, we have no say in how those we leave behind will interpret our legacy. All we can do is the best we know how, and love everyone we can, and tell them so often.

Image: One of my grandmother’s quilts. By M. Evans

For the Love of Libraries and Books

In preparation for a long car trip, I got an audio book from the library, as I so often do. Listening in the car didn’t work out as I’d planned, but when I got home, I was so fascinated by the book that I got the print version (pictures!) The Library Book by Susan Orlean is ostensibly about the fire that consumed a great deal of the Los Angeles Public Library in 1986. In fact, it is a history of and love letter to libraries, librarians, and books. I had heard of this fire on a podcast about cookbooks–a cookbook collector who lived in a part of California subject to wildfires had donated a great many of her books to this same library where, ironically, they were consumed by an arson-set fire.

The Library Book tells about the history of libraries, the tragedies that have befallen some of them, and their resilience in rising from the ashes. She introduces us to librarians, ancient and modern. Ms. Orlean describes her magical childhood trips to her hometown library and the continuing magic that is the modern-day library, source of so much more than books. Today’s library contains books, periodicals, assorted historical documents, photographs and art works, computer terminals, voting registration information, support services for homeless people, and much more.

My own love affair with libraries started when I rebelled against the books foisted off on children such as myself where the animal so often died or the little girl was subjected to all manner of horrors until the end when all was forgiven. I was disgusted. Where, I asked myself, was the justice? That’s when I discovered the shelves and shelves of mysteries. If someone dies, it’s in the beginning and by the end of the book, justice is served. I worked my way through every mystery in the county library in my hometown.

I was fortunate to grow up in a house with books. I discovered Edgar Allan Poe and the beauty of his poetry at an early age. My brothers and I were known to act out bits of Shakespeare–we were mad for the ghost scenes in Hamlet. Owning books came naturally to me. Perhaps it has come a little too easily. My house groans under the weight of all the books it contains.

This summer I’ve helped my friend, Dennis Young, sell his books at a couple of conventions. Other people were selling books, too, so, yes, I came home with books. While at the horror convention, Crypticon, I discovered a new genre: splatter westerns. Imagine a slasher horror movie in the old west with elements of the paranormal. Not what I expected I’d be reading, but given my childhood reading material and my on-going passion for classic horror films, maybe not so surprising. Of course, I also came home with some mysteries, still among my first loves.

Audio and paper books from the library, old books on line from Project Gutenberg, new books from indie authors, I love them all. And librarians! There is a current internet meme about an Old English word for library that means “book hoard”. What a lovely word! It easily conjures images of librarians as dragons in their library lairs, protecting their books. But unlike dragons, librarians are eager to share their treasures. I salute all the library dragons and bless them for doing their best to keep the book hoards safe for us all.

Image: Partial book hoard.

An update from the SysAdmin: Certificate Fix

For more than a year how, the SSL certificate for the site, has had an error.  It wasn’t really a functional error, it was just showing that the certificate was expired.

I finally got the certificate update, and everything should be fine now

Quite a Character

I recently finished another book by one of my favorite authors, C. J. Box. I first encountered his books at a gift shop in Yellowstone National Park, a wild and beautiful place where the action in his stories takes place from time to time.

C. J. Box has written a series of mysteries with a protagonist named Joe Pickett, a Wyoming game warden with a loving family, a dedication to his job, and a talent for destroying pickup trucks. Box has also written some stand alone mysteries. I say mysteries, but they are suspense novels as well, packed with action, wilderness locations, and great characters.

One of the things I love most about Box’s writing is his masterful way of introducing characters. I have to admit this is something I’ve struggled with, because I’m never fully comfortable telling what a character looks like right off the bat. I’m not sure why that is, except maybe it always seems a little artificial to me. But readers want to know who they are dealing with, and how will they know unless the author tells them?  Why not give them what they want?

When Box introduces a new character, you not only know what the person looks like, you know what kind of person they are likely to be and how they are likely to act as the story unfolds. Reading Box is a master class in character description. For example, when a man walks into a ranger station in Yellowstone to confess to killing four people, the ranger sees “a big man, a soft man with a sunburn already blooming on his freckled cheeks from just that morning, with ill-fitting, brand-new outdoor clothes that still bore folds from the packaging, his blood-flecked hands curled in his lap like he wanted nothing to do with them.” That right there is the way I’d love to be able to write.

It’s been said over and over, but it bears repeating: reading good writers makes you a better writer.

Keep writing, Mr. Box. I’ll keep reading.