8/15/11 “Epitaphs”

Good day, team.

Your challenge this week is about how you would like to be remembered. First, I offer some context.

On vacation last week, my husband and I took a road trip to Idaho. We visited friends in beautiful Sandpoint on Lake Pend Orielle and then traveled to the little towns of Grangeville and Nez Perce to discover what we could about my husband’s extended family. Surrounded by miles of wheat and corn fields, these towns have hardly changed since my husband’s relatives grew up there. These small and quiet towns are home to middle class farmers and stay-at-home moms who still put up pickles and jams and hang their clothes on the line outside. The most important events of the year are high school football games, the harvest and the Nez Perce Indian celebrations.

The Sunday we arrived in Grangeville, the entire town was in the park. Kids played in the community swimming pool, and adults sat in aluminum lawn chairs under shade trees, drinking lemonade and chatting about this year’s strange weather, the price of wheat, and which piece of machinery broke down last week.

We sought out the town cemetery to look for the gravesites of David’s ancestors — the Overmans, Watsons, Sinclairs,  and Whites. The prairie hill cemetery sits on a small rise with a gorgeous 360-degree view. The hot, dry breeze made wave-like patterns over the fields of high grass, and swirling clouds of dust surrounded the few harvesters out in the fields working to get a few more rows done. I realized that this view and this place had remained the same for many generations. It was comforting to feel its stability.

As we walked the rows of the cemetery, I read one headstone after another and pieced together a small picture of the lives of those who had lived here over the years:

Sarah, 1888–1902 — Darlin’ daughter of Ed and Wilma, whom the angels took too soon
Edward, 1904–1918 — Our brave and hearty son and brother
Leslie, 1872–1918 — True to every trust
William, 1872–1945 — Only game fish swim up stream
James, 1922–1945 — A valiant solder who died for us
Percy, 1891–1954 — Loving family man and famous fisherman
Clarisse, 1934–1935 — How brief and sweet was your time on earth
Forrest, 1902–1917 — His burden is lifted up to God
Cyrus, 1845–1901 — Here lies a loving man who served all with a smile
Myrtle, 1918–1982 — Sweet flower of the field
Florence Pauline, 1882–1899 — Thy memory shall ever be a guiding star to heaven

Who were these people? I wondered. Are their epitaphs a good description of who they were?

We stopped for lunch at the Hilltop Cafe, aptly named as it sat on the only hill in town. It was the typical cafe of the 1960s, with checked, plastic table cloths; dusty plastic flower arrangements; a bulletin board in the front entrance announcing local activities and services; bar stools covered in red naugahyde; and a large sign over the cook’s station that read, “If you don’t like it, don’t order it.”

The place was full of locals and a few bikers traveling through. “Sit anywhere!” a woman shouted as we walked into the restaurant. We took a couple seats at the counter, and it soon became clear that the place was run by that woman. Her name was Hilda.

Order up!” she barked at the cook who was no more than 10 feet from her across a counter. “Where’s that tuna sandwich?” The cook’s downcast eyes reflected a combination of servitude and resentment.

Fifteen years I’ve been runnin’ this place, and I still can’t get any decent help!” she said to a customer. Her servers and dishwasher just shook their heads and went about their business.

At another table, Hilda drilled an undecided customer. “You want curlys or French fries? I don’t have all day, so make up your mind.”

As I watched the scene unfold, I wondered what Hilda’s epitaph would read. “Here lies Hilda, the crabbiest cafe owner who ever lived” or “Hilda of the Hilltop — they ordered ’em up and she ordered ’em around.” Whatever it would turn out to be, I imagined Hilda’s dominating spirit would come into play.

This week, think about your own epitaph. What attitudes and behaviors do you show each day that people might use to describe you? Do you think people would say that you were brave, sweet, loving or loyal? Would they say you had a mind of your own or that you were nobody’s fool? Would you have a funny epitaph like one of these –  “I would rather be here than in Texas” or “Here lies the father of 29. He would have had more, but he didn’t have the time.” My all time favorite came from a headstone in Tombstone, Arizona: “Be who you is, cuz if you be who you ain’t, then you ain’t who you is.”

Think about what others might write about you after you’re gone. How will they remember you? If you had to write your own epitaph, what would you say about yourself? And would it be different than what others would write? Most important, what attitudes and behaviors do you exhibit everyday that describe you?

Have a good week!


Kathleen Doyle-White

Pathfinders Coaching

(503) 296-9249

© Copyright 2011 Pathfinders Coaching, Scout Search Inc., all rights reserved.

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