by Dana Blankenhorn
We're getting through the tech wreck OK, thanks to my lovely wife.
She's a computer programmer. Works on transaction processing
systems. She can get along with people and explain what she's doing in
English. She also has (or seems to have) unlimited stores of energy.
When big deadlines demand that she go at it 12 hours a day, 7 days a
week, she goes, yet somehow the laundry gets done, too.
The source of this energy can be traced back a century, to a Texas
prairie town where German was the only language spoken. Jenni's Dad
was raised in a world where you worked from sun-up to sun-down or you
didn't eat. And he never changed.
There were times she resented the fact that he'd wake up before she
did, run a school system until dinner-time, then go run a second business
on the side until after she was asleep. She got over that resentment
after she had her own family, and found she could call on that same kind
of energy. She is always busy at something. If there are chores she does
chores, if not she keeps our books, and if not she still finds time to read
several hours per day.
I saw this energy first-hand before our daughter was born. Jenni's Dad
was retired by then, but far from tired. He came up from Texas to build
two closets in our bedroom, sleeping in the sawdust, doing the
dimensions by hand. He was 67, yet he worked myself and a friend into
I mention this because he's now nearly 85, and ill, and we don't know
if maybe this time he won't walk away from it. He's the rock of a huge,
extended family, and no one can fill his shoes. He has set his affairs in
perfect order, and everyone will be taken care of, but it's his presence
we treasure now.
For me, Jenni's Dad always seemed a sharp contrast to my own
father, whose story drew so much comment here recently. Nothing my
dad tried worked out. He never followed through. Jenni's Dad always
followed through, always. And his daughter follows through, too. So I
bask in the warmth of his energy, second-hand, and when I get tired at
this typewriter, when my own energy flags, I wonder, how in the world
does he do it?
I have no firm answer for that. I only surmise, from watching his
daughter, that he has taken every day of his life as a gift, as a chance
to do some good in the world, as a chance to take care of others, and to
There are many sources of happiness in this world. I get it from
writing. I need to be here, and to have you reading me, or I feel like I
don't exist. And for a long time I thought that was the only way to be
happy. If you're not doing something meaningful, something you hope will
last, I would wonder, why are you sucking oxygen?
But it's the process of doing that's more important than the result.
Being dependable, being depended upon and delivering, is a great reward.
You build a life from pieces of time, from units of energy, you fight
entropy as much as you can, every day, with whatever you have. The
result is not for you to judge.
Jenni's Dad will leave his family in comfort. His children have all gone
to college, he's seen most of his grandchildren graduate, and even his
great-grandchildren are coming along fine. But, while the money that
brought college educations and suburban lifestyles for generations to
come is welcome, that's not his legacy.
His legacy lies in a story.
As I mentioned before, Jenni's Dad was a school superintendent. He
was a school superintendent for over a quarter-century. In the
mid-1960s he was asked to build a new elementary school, and rather
than putting some politician's name on it (or trying to get his own name
there, as he could have), he asked his children what they would like to
name their school.
He was very pleased with their answer. Hope, they said. Their
community was poor, and most of the parents were new immigrants, just
as his family had been.
So Jenni's Dad called Bob Hope. And he prepared a ceremony. But
Hope, being a very busy man, dawdled on setting a date, and the work
wasn't going to wait on him. So in exasperation Jenni's Dad called Hope's
assistant and said, "If he can't give me a date in the next hour I'm going
to name it for Crosby." Five minutes later the phone rang. "This is Bob
'please don't name it for Crosby' Hope." So Bob Hope Elementary was
born. And Hope said later that it was one of the greatest moments of his
own greatly-honored life, because he hadn't been able to graduate from
elementary school himself.
The greatest honor of Bob Hope's life was pushed on him by Jenni's
Dad, not because he necessarily wanted to honor Hope, but because he
wanted to honor hope. Knowing him has been the greatest honor of my
life. My prayer is that my children, and their children, can build something
on the hope he brought the world.
Well, I hope that we at least try. Remember, when things don't go
right, that you can still build tomorrow. Remember, when your energy
flags, that you can still use whatever you have. Remember that showing
up and staying on the job is something anyone can do, and very
meaningful. And remember that, in the end, it's not the building, or the
business, or the children you leave behind, that will be your legacy. Your
legacy will be the lesson of your example, the hope. That's what you'll be