Inheritance; Yours, Mine and Ours

Article excerpt


When one hears the word "inheritance," it likely conjures up images of young, self-indulgent heirs and heiresses (i.e., the the Hiltons) carelessly finding their way into gossip mags to remind us just "what's wrong" with this narcissistic society.

But what recently struck me while reading "My Grandfather's Son," the refreshing biographic memoir of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, was the kind of inheritance we often overlook. It has nothing to do with material wealth (Justice Thomas certainly did not have that) and everything to do with enrichment; specifically how one man's inheritance can lead to the enrichment of so many others.

There is nothing inherently wrong with bequeathing material wealth. In fact, Proverbs 13:22 tells us that: "A good man leaves an inheritance for his children's children." But generally speaking, to capture the definition of inheritance, is to look at all of its meanings. It is and can be "the genetic characters transmitted from parent to offspring" or "a quality, characteristic or other immaterial possession, received from the progenitors or predecessors as if by succession: an inheritance of family pride."

Family pride. That takes me back to Justice Thomas. Surely he did not think of family pride during one of his grandfather's rebukes or while battling the sweltering Southern heat as he tilled soil on the family farm. But Justice Thomas' descriptive recollections about the manner in which his uneducated, hard-working grandfather ("Daddy") chose to raise him and his brother reveal the magnitude of his inheritance. "I am going to send you boys to school and teach you how to work so you can have a better chance than I did," he said. "We were his second chance to live, to take part in America's opportunities, and he was willing to sacrifice his own comfort so that they would be fully open to us. Even then I understood that he had rescued me from difficult circumstances, but it was not until long afterward that I grasped how profoundly Daddy, Aunt Tina and the nuns of St. Benedict's had changed my life," Justice Thomas writes.

We have all had progenitors in our lives who have deposited or imparted wisdom, knowledge, a notion, a work ethic, a family trait. One can credit both of my grandmothers for my interest in all things "Martha Stewart." My Southern maternal grandmother (a great cook) cherished her garden of fresh vegetables. My paternal grandmother (who made a mean seven-layer cake) was a stickler for proper formal place settings. Both were women who exuded great strength. …