My dad was just 12 years old when he went to work in the woods. Twelve years old when he was given a hard hat and a chain saw and big metal lunch box, and told ‘Now you go to work. Forget about college, forget about the future, forget about whatever plans you may have made. Your place is here, helping to support this family.’ His first job was hooking up the logs to the dozer, so they could be dragged down to the landing and measured for the mill. By the time he was in high school, he would only go for half days so he could spend the rest of day out working in the woods. Many times he was out there working alone. And once when a tree came crashing down on him, he nearly died out there alone. And yet the next day, he got back up and he went to work again.
My mom was only 15 years old when she came home from school one day to an empty house. Her mom had taken her younger brother and sisters and moved to another town, but as the oldest and practically a grown up she was left to fend for herself. All she was left with was a couple of cans of tomatoes & some shell macaroni, and the utilities paid through the end of the month. A few weeks later when the electricity was turned off, she started cleaning houses to get it turned back on. And she’s been figuring out how to take care of herself, and the people that she loves, ever since.
The other day a friend told me that because I had gone to Yale for law school, she had always assumed that I must have been a “legacy” or some sort of trust fund baby, that my family must have been really wealthy.
I thought to myself: not wealthy, but rich.
Because from my parents I was taught what it is to work hard, and that when you fall- or when this world knocks you down-you pick yourself back up. Again and again. And you go on. To not count on anyone else to build a life for you, but to go out and build it yourself. Because that life, the one you build with your own two hands, it’s one worth fighting for.
I am the product of a WV logger and somebody’s cleaning lady.
And for my money, I can’t imagine a better legacy to pass on.