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The Legacy We Leave

January 9, 2021

Another Way for week of January 1, 2021

The Legacy We Leave

I would never make a farmer, but I like to be busy like my father.

Instead of cleaning our house for company this Christmas (since none of the children were coming, as in many other families), I cleaned a house my father built over 25 years ago.

The house that Dad built, and Michelle repaired many years later.

The backstory: he was not a carpenter, but he enjoyed working with wood. After he could no longer farm and had difficulty walking, his busy mind got to work on projects which kept him inspired and helped to chase away cabin fever.

As he tinkered often in a wheelchair, he sometimes copied the things he saw in other people’s yards like trellises, wooden tulips, or wooden ducks. Then he branched into building toy barns because, as a farmer, it was what he knew. He took joy in keeping his own barns freshly painted “barn red.”

So he began to make and sell toy barns, and often donated them for charitable sales, especially Mennonite Relief Sales, well-known throughout the U.S.

He also built life-size outdoor playhouses (tall enough for small children to stand in) on order. But where his creativity and love truly came out was in building doll houses, or as my one grandson requested for this Christmas, a “toy house.” You don’t have to play with dolls to enjoy the fun of running cars and trucks through a house and into a garage, or putting flowers in tiny window boxes.

Edward, almost 2.5, pokes his head into one room and sings “hello, hello.”

So I loved cleaning up the toy house that had sat in our basement for over 15 years. The work made me remember my dad in ways that I do not think about on a daily basis any longer. The concentration and small smile on his face as he worked. How he designed various patterns for the doll houses and kept a notebook of those patterns and gave them names, such as the “Melodie house.” The way he tidied up his workshop at the end of each day. The look of joy and satisfaction on his face as he told us about his latest project.

Two happy campers. Michelle was much older than this when she repaired the house that now sits in their basement playroom.

As he neared the end of his life with increasing dementia, he began to have trouble remembering exactly how to put them together. That was sad for all of us to watch. My husband tried to help him when we visited but Dad made the same mistake over and over. Then one time when our oldest daughter Michelle was along, she found this very toy house had a broken porch roof from something falling on it. Using the tools and supplies her grandpa could no longer manage, she repaired the house herself, excited to present the finished product to her grandpa.

Pressing a carpet in place.

I have a feeling this toy house will be visited by superhero characters and dinosaurs and little astronauts as Michelle’s boys live in the made-up stories of their imaginations. In fact, on Christmas morning, as we watched the boys playing via Zoom with the new “toy house,” the oldest, James, told us, “the Transformers are all friends who own a farm and this is their house.” His mother told me later that even the Deceptions, who are the “bad guy” Transformers, are part of this friendly farm family.

My father, the peacemaking farmer, would love this newly established friendly house.

So, I enjoyed cleaning up the house destined for my grandsons, even though we lamented—greatly—that we couldn’t spend more than a few passing minutes with them—dropping off the toy house at their neighbors to hide until Christmas. We spent time together with all our children and grandchildren, spouses and a fiancé on Zoom on Christmas morning, and felt their love and excitement articulated in packages and “love you.”

Christmas morning downstairs in the family room, a real toy house awaited three little boys.

As I think about this, somehow my Dad’s—and my husband’s legacy was passed down to at least two of my daughters who don’t mind tinkering and fixing things way beyond my skill set. If I can leave a legacy like Dad and Mom for our grandchildren, we hope to look back on this Christmas as the year that was not much fun, but bearable through innovation, hard work and love expressed. How is it in your family?


If you have stories to share, comment here and I will consider them for a future column. Or send to or Another Way Media, P.O. Box 363, Singers Glen, VA 22834.

Another Way is a column by Melodie Davis, in syndication since 1987. She is the author of nine books. Another Way columns are posted at a week after newspaper publication.  

  1. This is lovely, Melodie. A restored toy house for Christmas, symbolic of all good things that characterize healthy families – love, hard work, and family connection.

    Though Michelle’s grandfather’s memory faded, his legacy lives on in what he left behind. . . . something tangible to invoke stories for future generations. And I like how her father’s faithful patterns of living leave an indelible impression as well.

  2. Glad you enjoyed this. Sometimes I think about your memoir when I write about my father, and am sad you had some of the experiences you did. I will say my Dad wasn’t perfect but overall we were able to have a very positive growing up experience. And I know you have provided that in bushels for your children and now grandchildren as well! Blessings always. .

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