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Across the fence: Living a legacy

Marci Whitehurst for Progressive Cattle Published on 24 March 2020

Leaving a legacy.

I’ve been pondering this statement lately. I’m in my 40s, and my children are beginning to leave the nest. When our oldest left for college last fall, my husband and I started reminiscing about our lives at that age.

Some of it I can’t write about because my own mom doesn’t know it, and I don’t want her to find out here – just kidding.

When I met my husband, I’d been in college for three weeks. I was 18; he was 19. We were young, and we fell hard and fast. We got married less than two years later, a few weeks before I turned 20. We knew what we wanted: to finish college, work, raise a family and have our own ranch someday.

Here’s the abbreviated version of what actually happened:

  • Our first daughter was born before one of us finished college.
  • We worked for ranches.
  • We worked some more, ended up with jobs outside agriculture.
  • We had another daughter.
  • We bought 2 acres. We leased some land and bought a few cows.
  • We had a son.
  • We leased more land. Bought more cows.
  • We bought 6 acres.
  • We moved, rented, leased, built up a cattle herd.
  • Sold the herd.
  • Bought 150 acres.
  • Leased land, built another cattle herd.

It sounds like we didn’t know what we were doing. I suppose that’s true of all of us to some extent. We didn’t jump around because we failed, though. We bought and sold to build something bigger. Land prices are high in western Montana, so we’ve worked with the resources we have, and we are grateful for our opportunities.

But that doesn’t mean it hasn’t been hard. It’s hard to build a legacy on short-term leases.

We’d hoped by the time our kids went to college, we’d have land for them to come home to afterward. It hasn’t quite worked out the way we thought. Yet we are thankful for the stepping stones to build upon.

I am learning to be OK with the disconnect of how something looks in my everyday life and how I thought it would (or should) look. We certainly wanted a bigger legacy at this point, but my goodness we are thankful for all we have and our experiences. Plus, isn’t that what goals and dreams are for? I continue to dream of the legacy I’d like to leave for my kids.

Hopefully, it won’t be the tractor we got stuck in the ditch or getting stranded on a roof. Or the bumper we tore off. Or when we rode a pony to branding … although those are all great stories to tell.

The general definition of legacy is simply an amount of money or property left with someone in a will.

Upon further investigation though, there are several definitions of legacy. The one that struck me was from Wikidot: Something someone leaves behind to be remembered by. It’s simple, yet direct.

I feel like if I am going to leave behind anything of significance, it’ll take my entire life to do it.

Therefore, I think legacies may be left, as in “leaving a legacy,” but perhaps a legacy is something we actually live.

Living a legacy.

I’m far from perfect. I’ve made mistakes. I’ve been wounded, and I’ve hurt others, even though I had no intention of doing so. Some days, I wish I could have a legacy do-over. However, a legacy isn’t built in a thing or even a place.

We won’t be taking our cows or our land to glory with us. What will be left are people.

Sure, part of the legacy we are living involves land and cattle. But the greater part will be in how we treat people. It’ll been seen in our relationships.

Living a legacy involves treating others with significance. I’m not perfect at this either, but it is a major goal. I want others to know they are valuable.

Everyone will have their own legacy to live, but figuring out what we want it to be might help us determine what is important now. I don’t know about all of you, but I certainly need reminders to keep my focus on what is important, or I might throw away my time or create chaos.

Hopefully, we all have a lot of time left on earth and we can spend it being intentional with our legacy. We can focus on the projects that will lead to generational blessing. We can make time for people and events we cherish.

Living our legacy now also might help us feel as if our life is important. In the midst of the daily grind, it can be easy to think that our presence here doesn’t matter or that we don’t matter as much as another person. That simply isn’t true. Each of us carry an imprint that only we can make on the world.

Life is a gift – I hope I live it with a legacy in mind.  end mark

Marci Whitehurst is a freelance writer, ranch wife and the mother of three children. You can follow her on her blog at Cowboy Wife.

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