Tales of Ye Olde Blacksmith Shop, the Search for a Lost Legacy
Perhaps it is now a winery or houses a craft distillery. Maybe it houses a produce stand, a corner store, or a hodgepodge of discarded treasures that many refer to as antiques. Better yet, it now serves as an art studio or a writer’s summer retreat. Could it still be standing after all this time? Or did its years finally catch up to it and its weathered wood became kindling for the fireplace while the handmade nails that held it together are rusting away in a local scrapyard. The problem is, my family just does not know what happened to the old family blacksmith shop.
My maternal grandpa’s last name was Bent whose family lineage can be traced back to New England in the 1700s. That is where the legacy of the old family blacksmith shop originated, Vermont to be more exact. Both my great grandparents and grandparents had photos of the old shop in their homes. The shop was a source a pride to them and a conversation piece for visitors. So much so, that my uncle created an oil painting of the shop (another family legacy for another time). I can remember my grandparents describing the blacksmith shop as the “first family business.” The photo of the shop with this article hangs in my office, a gift from my grandparents when I reached adulthood.
A Lost Legacy
Unfortunately, that is all I can tell you about a place that was so important to my grandparents. I am pretty sure that they visited the old shop back as recently as the late 1980s and it was still standing. However, I never thought to ask more about it. Where was it located? For what was it being used the last time they visited? How long did the Bents use it as a blacksmith shop? (They later ended up on the banks of the Mississippi in Missouri).
In 2015, my family travelled through Vermont on our way to Massachusetts. While in Vermont, it was my mission to try to find the old blacksmith shop. I started with a trusty search of good old Google, but “Blacksmith Shop Vermont” yielded no relevant results. My mom thought that she remembered the shop being near a town that started with an “R.” We looked through an atlas and the town of Ripton sounded close. I resumed my internet search, but even “Ripton Blacksmith” and “old buildings Ripton, Vermont” yielded no results. While in Vermont, we visited a local historical society, but no one could find any building that resembled the shop.
We returned to Vermont last summer with my mom and dad joining us. We still struck out. A legacy lost.
The Importance of Your Legacy
As an elder law and estate planning attorney, I often have extensive discussions with clients about their legal plan. We discuss who will be their “team” if they cannot handle their own affairs. I advise them on what legal authority the team will need to accomplish their role and craft the documents that will contain that authority. We also talk about how to ensure the team has good instruction to use that authority. These tasks are all important elements to the plan. They will protect the beneficiaries who need help from themselves. It will ensure the client’s desires are met by the persons of their choosing, but it does little to preserve their legacy.
That is because a “legacy” is more than dollars and cents, heirlooms and real estate. This is the inheritance. Your legacy is your story. It is where you pass along your characteristics, values, and heritage. It is a priceless gift to your family. Think of the importance of your legacy this way: when reminiscing about lost friends and family, what do you discuss? I would wager that having a laugh over grandma pitching balls to her grandson in her 70s comes up way more often than the fact that grandma left her grandson $10,000 in her Will.
Preserving Your Legacy
Many different authors have written good books about how to preserve your legacy. However, preserving a legacy does not require a formal book. Recording some of the following in a simple spiral notebook will leave your family with a story to be passed on to generation after generation.
- Your Basic Information. This would be things like your place of birth, date of baptism, level of education (and where), place of marriage, names of your children, and different places you have lived.
- A Description of Your Typical Day. Describe your typical day in different stages of your life, from childhood to retirement.
- Milestones. Make a list of your important milestones.
- Hobbies and Interests, Hopes and Dreams, Special Skills. What do you do better than many others? What do you particularly enjoy?
- Values and Belief System.
- Family Members. Record the names of your family members. Include any important anecdotes about each family member. For example, my great grandpa had an inventor’s mind and created many gadgets to make work easier for him.
- Places Important to You. Describe your most memorable vacations, places special to you, or your favorite residence.
- Funny or other Memorable Stories. Did your Uncle accidently chuck a snake into a crowd of other family members? That is probably a good story for the ages.
- People who Inspired and Influenced You. Have a teacher or coach who took an extra interest in helping you? Did you look up to a particular person? Was there someone you always wanted to emulate?
- Life Changing Experiences.
- Memorabilia and other “Stuff.” If you intend to leave something that is important to you, include a brief story for the recipient as to why you particularly value that item.
These are just a few examples of what could encompass your story. You may think of other topics as well. To get you started, I have a worksheet available on my website for those who are interested.
So remember that money runs out, but a legacy can be everlasting. While an inheritance fades, a legacy is something that can be appreciated and valued by your family for years. I know how settling it would be to have a conclusion to the old blacksmith shop story. Do not leave your family wondering. Preserve your legacy. It will be a gift your family will appreciate for years after you are gone.