Legacy Lessons


I am a lifelong learner.  I learn from everything, stubbed toes, and wise women, getting caught in the rain, books, fathers, music and the day to day routine.  Everything I learn becomes part of my legacy, how could it not.

But it’s not only me, everybody is creating a legacy, young and old alike, I mean everybody.  In listening and reading about other people’s lives and living my own life (which is nothing like minding my own business because you know like you know I can’t do that) certain lessons have begun to emerge.   I want to explore those lessons now that they seem so blatantly obvious.

Legacy lessons are little tidbits and light bulb moments in everyone’s lives, they are the nuggets you leave behind for others to follow (or not) and little sparks of your being that prompt people to say:

Remember the time…

How funny was…

So and so taught me…

Fill-in-the-blank used to say…

I remember…

I’m tired of writing about me (well not really) so I’ve begun collecting some of these legacy lessons from others so we can begin to share all that makes us who we are and what we will leave behind. Oh don’t get so “let’s not talk about that”, nobody gets out alive.  And if you’re going to leave a legacy you may as well have something to do with it.  I know like I know that we are all extraordinary legacies in the making.

Check the Ordinary Legacy Facebook page for the lesson prompts and share your stories.  A hint, we all come from one…

Jersey Strong

05 longest boardwalk

Is a Jersey Girl still a Jersey Girl if she finds herself down the shore after 40 years?  For whatever unfolding of circumstances I found myself not on the Cape this June but down the shore.  What a difference four decades makes and yet there was not much difference at all.  What a disaster one storm can make and yet so little seemed evident.

Staying in Spring Lake was beyond relaxing.  It’s a quaint seaside town with B & Bs, the famous Breakers, the longest continuous boardwalk, mostly residential with a wanna be downtown.  Our hotel, the Hewitt Wellington, sits on the corner of the lake with one of the best porches around.  I once thought I was an expert on porches, having photographed enough of them, until someone pointed out to me that it wasn’t the porches I was after but the chairs.  Anyway…

Five days and four nights, at the suggestion of my sister, were spent in total slug mode.  There was breakfast (including latte because yes I did bring my Nesspresso machine), lunch and dinner, books, the pool, wine on the porch, you get the picture.

pt pleasant boardwalk11

We finally roused ourselves on the last day to head out to Point Pleasant for dinner and a nostalgic walk on the boardwalk.  You know a real boardwalk with games and rides and screaming kids and parents trying to corral the lot. I was feeling all things haven’t changed a bit with the usual garb, shorts, tee shirts, flip flops, hoodies.   I was familiar with all that but then the do rags and tattoos started making their way into view.   Don’t get me wrong, I have a tattoo, I appreciate the art it just wasn’t forty years ago when the only tattoo you saw was on some father’s forearm and it said semper fi or something military.  Therein lies the rude awakening.

Walking along it was good to see that Jenkinson’s still owns everything except for Martell’s Tiki Bar.  But there didn’t seem to be any tickets left??? Big savings cards were the method of payment for the games.  What?  No streams of tickets around your neck?  Finally down the boardwalk there were games taking tickets so all was not lost and funny you could pay cash or credit for those tickets.  Credit?  Who the hell paid credit on the boardwalk?  OMG I am sounding so damn old.  The rides were familiar; the tot train still left the station with parents squeezed into the seats holding on to scared/excited toddlers.   The water guns had changed from pistols to Uzis, really?

The food was interesting too.  Funnel cakes and waffle cones of frozen custard, thank God, but someone explain to me what the hell is Philadelphia Water Ice.  Sushi?  I thought for dinner we would just grab a slice and walk along the boardwalk until I realized I had become a sit down and be served kind of girl…no interest in burning the roof of my mouth while trying to keep the cheese in the fold.  Just sayin.

As we walked around, my sister rolling her eyes at me, I realized she was more of a Jersey Girl than I would ever be or had ever been.  She truly spent time down the shore and to this day thinks nothing of jumping in the car to drive down the parkway to meet friends of hers who are continuing the shore legacy with homes of their own.  She knows full well the significance of Point Pleasant’s boardwalk having random boards replaced and not whole sections the way Seaside Heights needed or the other truly devastated towns. She understood far better than I when we overheard a local bitching about “some woman tourist” stating it didn’t seem that bad.  He mentioned she should kiss his ass, love that part of Jersey, pretty sure that’s the part of the Jersey Girl I wound up with.  She’s been to and still goes to the Stone Pony.  Me not so much, but I am in awe of her and her friends and the dedication to this little piece of the state that is in such dire need of continued support.

Funny thing about the support part, we looked everywhere for a Jersey Strong tee shirt and there were none to be found.  What’s up with that?  Please don’t tell me someone owns the right to that little catch phrase…and for those of you who don’t think much of our President, his reassuring and damn true words, New Jersey is stronger than the storm, just might be a lasting legacy.    As for me returning to the shore, I’m not sure.  But I know like I know that I am so glad they are absolutely Jersey Strong.





It was unusual for my sister and me to find ourselves parked along the railroad tracks recently.  So suggestive of days lived so long ago.  Our father was a train enthusiast; no he was a train nut.  We have been watching trains our whole lives and to this day the sound of the whistle stops us and brings us back to sitting three across in the front seat alongside the siding.

One of my fondest memories is playing in the park in Weehawken that overlooks the railroad yard. Back and forth on the swings, the wrought iron fence, surveying the long drop down to where the trains came in and out.  Hearing the wheels clack along the rails, watching for the signals to change, and the whistle…love the whistle.  When I lived on Oaktree Road and was unable to sleep the sound of the freight train going through early in the morning gave me comfort.

How many engines pulling the train was a good indicator of how long you’d be sitting at the crossing, the engineer on the caboose, back when there was a caboose, waving to us, knowing what freight movers the boxcars belong to and then watching the train pull all the way out of sight.

Toward the end of his life one of the small pleasures my father had was taking a ride.  Inevitably we would wind up along a railroad track or stopped for a train.  You could see the kid in him light up and the wanderlust move across his face.  I’m pretty sure my sister and I have inherited some of the kid light from him as we rolled down the windows and beeped the horn to hear the echo under the old trestle as we left to go home.

Happy Father’s Day Thomas, we miss you every day.


Be Clenched


I’ve been trying to post some ordinary wisdom each Wednesday on the Ordinary Legacy Facebook page and this week’s ordinary wisdom was from Susan Sontag:

“Do stuff. Be clenched, curious. Not waiting for inspiration’s shove or society’s kiss on your forehead. Pay attention. It’s all about paying attention. Attention is vitality. It connects you with others. It makes you eager. Stay eager.”

I was intrigued by the words “be clenched”.  How does one do that?  I get curious, I get paying attention, and I get eager.  Couldn’t wrap my mind around being clenched.  But I love the sound of it, I love the idea of it, I love the way it makes the right side of my brain spark.  I began wondering where the quote came from, one of her books, some off handed remark, and so through the magic of Google I found this:

Susan Sontag, Vassar speech, 2003

Despise violence. Despise national vanity and self-love. Protect the territory of conscience.

Try to imagine at least once a day that you are not an American. Go even further: try to imagine at least once a day that you belong to the vast, the overwhelming majority of people on this planet who don’t have passports, don’t live in dwellings equipped with both refrigerators and telephones, who have never even once flown in a plane.

Be extremely skeptical of all claims made by your government. Remember, it may not be the best thing for America or for the world for the president of the United States to be the president of the planet. Be just as skeptical of other governments, too.

It’s hard not to be afraid. Be less afraid.

It’s good to laugh a lot, as long as it doesn’t mean you’re trying to kill your feelings.

Don’t allow yourself to be patronized, or condescended to – which if you are a woman, happens, and will continue to happen, all the time.

Do stuff. Be clenched, curious. Not waiting for inspiration’s shove or society’s kiss on your forehead… Pay attention. It’s all about paying attention. It’s all about taking in as much of what’s out there as you can, and not letting the excuses and the dreariness of some of the obligations you’ll be incurring narrow your lives. Attention is vitality. It connects you with others. It makes you eager. Stay eager.

You’ll notice that I haven’t talked about love. Or about happiness. I’ve talked about becoming – and remaining – the person who can be happy, a lot of the time, without thinking that being happy is what it’s all about. It’s not. It’s about becoming the largest, most inclusive, most responsive person you can be.

Oh this is rich.  This short speech delivered to the graduates of Vassar in 2003 is full of wisdom.  Sadly, she was fighting for her life at this very moment, only to lose that fight a year later. What a gift from such a renowned intellectual to put forth so succinctly a manifesto for life.

But I’m still drawn to the “be clenched”.  I find it interesting that in all the versions I’ve seen of this quote the eluding to the “taking in as much of what’s out there, not letting the excuses and the dreariness of some of the obligations you’ll be incurring narrow your lives” part is always missing.  What a mistake omitting the very thing that serves as the juxtaposition needed to “be clenched”.  I think I get it.

To be clenched is never to put the blinders on, no matter what you’ve seen.  To be clenched is to feel, the hair rising on the back of your neck.  To be clenched is to savor food for thought and moments in time.  To be clenched is to learn, differently than you’ve learned before from interesting and non- traditional teachers.

To be clenched is to know like you know that you don’t know what you don’t know.


Ding Dong, You’re about to be Robbed


When I moved to Stowe Lane almost five years ago, I was mourning the loss of my garden more that I was mourning the demise of my marriage.  So, with the help of some wonderful people, I began the recreation of a garden on my little plot (if you can call a barren couple of square feet a plot) of land.

If you are a gardener, or you know a gardener, you know full well that things will inevitable get away from you.  In my case, any walk around the neighborhood resulting in impromptu weeding, whacking back and donation of any spare clumps of whatever needed to be split.

At the beginning of each season I could miraculously make stakes appear so that whoever’s whatever wouldn’t fall over and fail to bloom.  I could coerce the landscapers into weeding and the kid hired to remove the weed fabric into NOT removing the weed fabric so I wouldn’t have more weeding to do.

Bit by bit little ole me is transforming our little Stowe Ln, either on my own or by shaming (merely by example of course) some of the neighbors into putting pots of colorful whatever on their porches or decks.   Many times I wind up watering those pots but OK I asked for it, kind of.

What do I get in return, a beautiful street, a way to get dirt under my nails and the opportunity to ring someone’s doorbell to let them know they’re about to be robbed of some of their peonies.  Their reaction to such a bold statement…”They’re not my peonies they most certainly belong to you, help yourself any time.”  I know like I know that I certainly will.