It occurred to me while I was harvesting and drying oregano from my garden. Well, to be perfectly correct, a marjoram-oregano hybrid that grows between my house and my neighbour’s house. It self-seeds, so it has had a place in his garden since he brought it from Calabria, and now thanks to the wind, it also grows in mine.
It is the best oregano/marjoram/whatever I have ever had. I now grow as much as I can, save seeds and share the harvest with others. I pluck the whole plant, leaving a few for seeding next year, hang it dry, and then rub the dried leaves between my palms over a newspaper.
When done, I lift the edges of the paper, tilting the herbs into the centre fold and using it as a funnel to put it into a container. It is an action I was taught by the very man who grew the oregano.
My neighbour, Pietro, passed away a few years ago. But the oregano still grows, in memory of him. Of his wife, Angelina, there are her perfect red tulips that burst from the soil each spring.
When I first moved into my home, amongst the full yard gardens that used to dot the neighbourhood, I got the itch to garden. It was Pietro who taught me, taught me to look at the moon, to check the soil, which bugs were good or bad and how to get rid of them using the oddest selection of inexpensive and effective methods.
Sometimes, I would just come out my back door with garden gloves on and he would say, “No today. No good today, do tomorrow.”
And so I would sit with him, and he would tell me stories of the old country, of his life, and all the good neighbourhood gossip.
The idea of legacy is the same for my memories of my grandmother. It is not her accomplishments, her six children — even though my mother is a great child — or her work that I remember the most. It is her soft hands, and watching them move back and forth, rubbing and grating stale bread to make the greatest turkey dressing in the history of dressing. There will never be another as great as this, and I know that because everyone in my family, including me, still makes it. I always see her hands in mine when I do the same action.
There is also the legacy of two people that will be remembered as long as I am canning relish: Arnie and his Aunt Irene. My mother made it first, and the smell of mustard pickle when it is being boiled to a sticky thickness reminds me instantly of summers at home. But the recipe itself will always bring up Arnie and his aunt Irene.
Arnie gave the recipe to my mother when they worked at General Tire in Barrie together. It closed in the 1980s, but we still make Arnie’s Aunt Irene’s mustard pickle, giving it a proud placement on the Easter dinner table, because of her legacy in recipe.
I recently heard an Anishinaabe elder speaking to a group, and she said she doesn’t wonder what kind of person she is, but what kind of ancestor she will be. This thought has wrapped around my brain for a little while, marinating in the background. But after rubbing the oregano through my hands, I realised that if I offer my beloved nephews and nieces enough skills to get them through life, that this is all the legacy I need.
But the legacy we all leave is something I am still transfixed by, and it is one of the reasons I began the Sudbury.com Lifestory series. There are so many quietly wonderful people in this community, the one’s we may not hear of but that have changed Sudbury, this world, or even just your life in so many ways. Whether their legacy is in recipe, in skill, in the community they built at church or in the community centre, their years of volunteering or even just the tiny differences they made in your life. I would love to hear their story and I would love to share it with the community.
If you have lost someone recently and you would like to share their legacy, please email firstname.lastname@example.org. I can’t wait to hear about them.