Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Angie McGhee: Something to Show

Angie McGhee

All my life my mom has had one major lament: “I just wish you had something to show for all that money you’ve spent on horses.” My mom on the other hand has lots of stuff to show for her money …I’m talking mountains of stuff. She has so much stuff to show for her money that she’s looking for a larger house at age 75.

I guess we all want a little “something to show” for our time on this earth. After all, that’s how we keep score isn’t it? When you play Monopoly the one with the most houses and money at the end of the game is declared the winner. Nobody cared that my personal game goal was just to get to be the Scotty dog and buy all the Railroads. They still told me that I had to put away the game because I “lost”. Fortunately for me, I kind of liked putting away the game and I really hated buying those houses, so who’s to say I “lost”? This sort of logic was probably an accurate predictor of what sort of endurance competitor I would later become.

The problem with counting the money (and stuff) at the end of your life to see who wins is that you’re never around to enjoy the victory. You may know you’re ahead, but third quarter leads aren’t that satisfying, because we all know “It ain’t over till the buzzer blows”. It’s also a difficult job for the scorekeepers. Do you only count resale value or original purchase price? If one person keeps an elderly uncle’s oil painting which seemed ugly and worthless at the time, but turns out to be worth millions (though still ugly), do they beat the person with a 3,500 square foot house that was filled with top of the line (at the time they bought them) furniture and appliances…even if most of it is on its way to the landfill soon after the counting?

I’ve helped “count the points” at the end of a few people’s games and decided that no matter how great the stuff seemed to you at the time you bought it, it’s a rare item that is worth having when you’re ready to pass it on. Since my instinctive urge is to enjoy things today, use them up and wear them out; I hadn’t given much thought to what sort of things were permanent. However, my mom’s comments got me thinking about it. This inspired me to set out on a quest to find what would really last; something that would remind others that I had existed, because I’d like to leave something behind that my descendents could remember me by.

My mom is very practical; she thinks I should invest in real estate. “You could have paid for a rental house by now” she says. So, is a house something that will “last”? Not really. I see what’s left of houses all the time when I’m riding through the woods. One leak in the roof and the rot sets in. A beam rots through, the roof collapses and in what seems like no time at all the vines have pulled down the walls and only the stone chimney remains. Houses don’t last as long as I want my memory to last. On the other hand, daffodils do. I’ve ridden by spots in the woods where daffodils that look as new as the year they were planted come up with the first hint of spring and surround what used to be someone’s yard. All that’s left of the house is the outline of the foundation, but the daffodils are in excellent condition. I contemplate these things as I ride and figure it’s got to mean something…probably something about the futility of hard work.

What about wealth? Should we attempt to build a fortune to pass on so our kids will never know what it feels like to do an honest day’s work? I think the Paris Hiltons of the world have answered that question. So how do we avoid accidentally making too much money and ruining our offspring’s lives? We must know how to recognize when we have made “enough” money, then have the self control to stop and go riding.

My brother is wealthy. He is a very hard worker and loves every minute of it. Even his recreational activities make money. Making more money is his profession and his hobby. If you asked him how much money he wants to make the answer would be “more”. One day he commented to me, “Do you ever think about how much money you could have made if you’d been doing something where you got paid instead of riding?” This seemed like a ridiculous question. I hadn’t missed any meals and always paid my bills, so I obviously hadn’t needed any more money. Personally, I never understood why he continued to work after he had covered all his financial commitments. To me that was like continuing to drink when you weren’t thirsty any more. I simply answered his question with a question. “Have you ever considered how many interesting things you could have seen and done if you had been riding with me instead of making more money?”

I wonder how my brother and I will be remembered by later generations. I know from quizzing my grandmother about my ancestors that most people do well to get a one word summary of their life. “He was a”: “teacher”, “fiddler”, “cripple”, or “tough” was about all she bothered to tell me when I asked about a person on the family tree. But there were a few she’d elaborate on simply because there was a good story attached. Her favorite was my great-great-grandfather who was murdered. The story went that he was bragging and flashing a big wad of money and the preacher’s son murdered him for it. The money turned out to be Confederate and worthless. So I suppose: “Be stupid and die”. That’s one way to leave a legacy. There were others my folks told me about; “Aunt Bird” who was born premature and slept in a shoebox for a crib; my grandmother who was so strong she could hold a chair at arm’s length longer than any of the teenaged boys; the second cousin who bought a mountain and mounted huge theater speakers on the roof of his cabin so he could listen to the “Sons of the Pioneers” while he rode his horse through the woods… all these people are referred to often in family conversations. What I gather from this is, “be dumber, tougher, or stronger than people expect, or do what makes you happy whether it’s normal or not and there will be something to show for your life…a good story. At least in my family, the farther you distanced yourself from normal the more likely you were to be remembered.

So, what do I have to show for my life? What have I done with the money I made with the job that I got with the education I’ve been given? I got to thinking about it and realized that most of it bought me nothing but memories… and maybe some character. I guess most of the memories are about getting my character. As a matter of fact, looking back at my riding career I realize I have acquired so much character that if there was a character bank my balance would be staggering. I would love to be able to leave some of it to others who haven’t had the opportunity to go through some of the things I’ve survived.

I think I’ve spent my money well. The lack of tangible possessions is a blessing. My mom and dad raised 6 children on my dad’s one paycheck. Still, the stuff that she’s got left to show for it is crowding them out of their house. Considering we have only two children and we have two paychecks, it’s terribly lucky for me that I have my horses to protect me from a much worse fate. They take money that would clutter up my life with possessions, and through shoeing, hay, grain, vet bills, entry fees and fuel spent going to rides manage to make it disappear into thin air. No need for storage or maintenance, it’s gone for good!

What else should I have done with that money? Buy 277 toaster ovens, 22 microwaves, 17 refrigerators and dozens of washer & dryer combinations? How many bedroom suits and matching color coordinated comforters can one person handle? I’ve already got stereos, and computers everywhere, should I have bought even more? There would be so much stuff we’d have to add more rooms onto the house and those would be full too. I can just see me now, I’d be one of those old women whose house has a tiny little path winding between her mounds of possessions. It gives me chills thinking about it. Thank goodness for the horses!

So, instead of lots of material junk to sort out when I go, I’m leaving my grandchildren an eccentric grandma to reminisce about. They can look up my AERC record if they need to prove the stories are true. I can write down enough interesting anecdotes from those miles to let each descendent pick a favorite for their own. As for my other possessions, if I time things just right, the money should be spent, the hay should all be eaten, the horse should die, the saddle should wear out and I should expire pretty much simultaneously. If handled properly we should all compost very well taking up precious little landfill space. If someone has to sum up my life very briefly I have no doubt they’ll say, “She rode horses…a lot”. I leave that along with a very large mountain of rich manure behind the barn, which I hope my family will scatter around some daffodils.


Anonymous said...

Love it! I couldn't agree more!

All Who Wander said...

I think you have a refreshingly wonderful attitude of what LIFE is and should be. After all...shouldn't we live it? ~E.G.

AppHappy said...

I would love to re-post this .. especially so my non-horse friends can read it

Michelle said...

So true! The older I get, the less "stuff" I have. Instead, my life is spent living. Hope you don't mind that I shared this.