She had been married for decades, but had no children. I can't find her in online records. I don't know if she had family members who remember her. Though I spent several hours with her for months, I am sure there is a lot that I don't remember. For me she is a tall, white-haired story collection. And in a way, twenty years on, maybe that's not a bad thing to be.
Here are some of the stories I remember her telling:
- She remembered going to college in World War I, and watching all the men disappear from campus and go off to war, leaving the college barely able to sustain itself.
- Even though she went to college herself, she didn't work outside the home, but seemed to thrive on being a doctor's wife in small town Minnesota, getting paid in chickens, getting up in the middle of the night to attend to expectant mothers.
- In the little retirement apartment she lived in since her husband died, she had a whole closet full of what she called her 'mad hats' Whenever she and her husband fought, she went out and bought herself a hat, and she kept her favorites despite the downsize in home. If I described a particular hat, she could remember what it looked like, where she bought it, how much she paid, and what the fight was about.
- She never forgave the Mayo Clinic for the death of her husband from kidney cancer. She felt they sent him home knowing how ill he was, wanting him to die off their books.
And the most telling story was this: half of her bed was piled with boxes of papers. I asked her once if she wanted me to move them, and she said "No, I was married too long. Now, I can't sleep without weight on the other side of the bed, so I keep all my husband's letters to me on his side of the bed."
Ultimately, many of her stories seemed to come back to her marriage, the strength and complexity of their relationship, the pride in their teamwork, the ferocity of how much she missed him. I know she told me how they met, but I can't remember it, and that saddens me. But I knew I wanted a relationship like hers, despite the difficulties she went through.
Not everyone who has a legacy has children. But they do have powerful, inspiring, riveting relationships, and from those relationships can come great stories.