By: Randy M. Ataide
I just returned from an extensive visit to Europe, and enjoyed time in Portugal, France and Spain. The castles, fortresses, cathedrals and other mammoth structures bear witness to the attempt by monarchs, nations, religions and even epochs to create a legacy. Handing something down through the generations seems to be a very human attribute that cuts a wide swath through history.
What legacies are we trying to create? Once, while traveling with my esteemed colleague Dr. Lynn Reaser, she remarked how a bank CEO she once knew was insistent on building the largest structure in the city, and so embarked on a vast (and expensive) venture for the company. While I have not the funds, power nor inclination for such grand schemes, a recent experience caused me to think on this topic a bit.
Fifty years ago, my parents moved us from the “big city” of Fresno out to Clovis, a very rural town best known for its annual rodeo. They purchased some acreage, built a home, and soon after my Aunt and Uncle from Carmel purchased a nearby ranch as well, about two miles away. They restored an old farmhouse into a vacation home, fenced the property and purchased some prized Angus cattle and a few horses. My brother and I were hired to do basic farm work, and it was not long before my other uncle, a noted artist but also a good carpenter as well, moved onto the property to live and work. Unbeknownst to me, it would be a remarkable span of years of time with extended family, fun with cousins, and seemingly endless summer days.
In the late 1960’s and into the 1970’s, my father and uncle expanded the ranch into a thoroughbred boarding and breeding operation. Steel fencing, a new concrete barn with stalls, offices, a small laboratory, and other buildings appeared. My brother and I were eventually hired to live and work on the ranch, now known as Orangewood Farms, and at its peak held about 80 thoroughbreds and we “foaled” (birthed) 20-30 mares per year, and raised young horses until the time they left for training and racing. The entire family took great pride in Orangewood, and I lived and worked horses throughout my junior high and high school years until a family tragedy ended it all in 1975.
This past weekend I was in Central California to attend a wedding and to see my mother who still lives in Fresno but has long since moved to another home. With my wife and daughter, I asked if we could drive out to the old family home and ranch. While our home remains, somewhat tattered and torn and not nearly as large as it was in my memory, when I arrived at the site of our treasured Orangewood Farms, it was gone. I can only describe it as almost lunar like setting, with nothing remaining of the bustling enterprise of forty years ago. I stood at the end of the long driveway, and thought of the toil, investment, energy and dreams that this piece of land held for my family. I strained to hear the voices of the past, the laughter of us cousins, or to see some sign of our effort, but there was none. Silence. Only the shattered remains of the brick columns that once proudly stood at the entrance gave a hint of what had occurred here long ago. Graciously, my wife picked up a brick and put it in our car for me to take.
Someone far smarter wrote “Carve your name on hearts, not tombstones. A legacy is etched into the minds of others and the stories they share about you.” This is a good reminder. Our striving to build monuments, even great ones that withstand the ravages of time are often lost to history. Few can recall the specifics of castles and cathedrals, and the why, how and when of their creation. Ultimately, what remains are memories of people, relationships and conversations, even through the fuzziness of the passing of decades. The folly of trying to build structures to demonstrate our legacy has been proven to me once again, for the best legacies are the relationships we make, cherish and maintain regardless of time and space.