When we think of the word legacy, what comes to mind? It can be a daunting word.
When we think of the word legacy, what comes to mind? It can be a daunting word.
In my youth, I thought of legacy in terms of a person’s will, and the property and money left to their children and grandchildren.
Over time, as I have grown in wisdom and maturity, I have come to consider legacy in a different light.
The second definition of legacy is: something, like memories or knowledge, that comes from the past or comes from a person of the past.
Memories. Isn’t it interesting that memories from our youth are sometimes more vivid than memories of yesterday?
Sights, sounds, and feelings, all are clearly preserved in the deep recesses of our mind, just waiting to be called up by the colors of a sunrise, the sound of a child’s laugh, or the smell of turkey baking in the oven.
Then, as now, my family would gather together each Thanksgiving Day. When I say family, I mean one great-grandmother, one grandfather (the other had passed away before I was born), two grandmothers, one father, one mother, two brothers, three sisters, eight cousins, two aunts, two uncles, one great-aunt, AND A PARTRIDGE IN A PEAR TREE. Twenty-four people, all of whom were connected to me, and who formed what is now known as my family constellation.
I speak today of three ancestors, my great-grand-mother, my grandfather, and my great aunt because each of them had a story for me. And, of course, our story is our history and, as we all know, every good story has a moral. I didn’t know it at the time, but I do now.
The brightest star, the one who defined True North for all of us, was my great grandmother Mary Araminta Young Creech. She had been born in southern Georgia in 1848, married my great grandfather and bore 8 children.
After Araminta, Mammy, as we called her, was finished raising her eight children, she moved to Belle Glade in order to be near her eldest son, my grandfather. Mammy loved flowers and, with the help of her daughter, Sara, opened up a flower shop. “Flowers by Creech” became the “go to” place for flowers, to celebrate births, anniversaries, Valentine’s day, proms, and weddings.
People also bought flowers to mark the sadder times; funerals, sickness and, sadness.
As a teenager, I helped out at the shop, and learned more lessons about the importance of community than I ever would sitting in a university lecture hall.
However, it was the FIRST lesson, the first story actually, that informed my life, for the rest of my life.
One day Mammy called me to sit beside her in the garden.
I was the first great-grandchild and held both a reverence for this stately woman, and even at a young age, a certain awe mixed with responsibility to listen carefully to all she shared to be able to pass these lessons on.
As I sipped sweet, iced tea and crunched down on classic pecan divinity, a candy as light as a feather, I listened. “Do you see those flowers over there?” she asked.
“Yes, ma’am.” I answered.
“What do you notice?” she asked.
“Well, I said. The lilies over there, they have the same shape, but they come in different colors, like white, yellow and orange.”
“Yes,” she said. “What else?”
“Well, roses are like that, too. See? The rose bushes have all kinds of roses, yellow and red and pink and white, and some are combined. But, they are all roses.”
“That’s true.” she said. “Anything else?”
“Well, now that I look around, I see that the flowers are planted in a thoughtful way. The rose beds are over there, and the lilies over here, and all of the other flowers are planted around the sides of the house and the trees in groups and patterns.”
“Now why do you think we need so many different flowers?” Mammy asked.
“Well,” I said. “Flower arrangements would be kind of dull with only one kind of flower.
And, some people want daisies for their wedding, not roses.” Many years later, perhaps without remembering why, I chose daisies for my July wedding.
“So,” Mammy said. “I want you to think about this.
I want you to think of our family. If you were to compare each of us to a flower, would you say that we are all roses?”
“Oh, no! “I squealed with laughter, just thinking of my brothers as roses.
“When you think of us, EACH of us ONE at a time, if we were flowers, what do you see? “
It took me awhile, and a few more mouthfuls of divinity, but I did it.
I named each member of our family and assigned a flower to them.
“Each of us is different. But, we are all flowers. And, we have something to contribute. By our very presence, we make the flower basket more beautiful.”
“It will be your job, Frances“ she said,” to find out what your special contribution will be to this world.
You were born for a purpose, we all were, and it is time NOW for you to being searching for yours.”
“But how will I know?” I asked.
“Whenever you begin a project, or volunteer, or have an idea, think of how that action makes you feel.
If your HEART begins to beat with happiness, and you feel JOY just thinking about this idea, and yet you know you can’t do it alone, then you are on the right track.”
One day, many years later, when our four children were on the verge of leaving the nest, I was standing in front of a run down, boarded up, old school building.
As I stood there, memories of my school days came flooding back to me. The smell of newly waxed pine floors, crayons, lunch being cooked in the cafeteria.
The din of children talking, laughing. The feel of the brass door handle as I opened the big, wooden door to a new year with a new teacher.
Would she like me? Would I like her?
There was good homegrown, homemade food cooking in that lunchroom. Real biscuits, fresh green beans, real fried chicken. And peach cobbler for dessert.
I guess they didn’t worry about us getting fat in those days.
Anyway, as I stood there, I wondered if there were OTHERS in the community who shared my fond memories of school and who, if asked, might like help preserve this building and find a new purpose in a place that had meant so much to so many and held the lost history of a town nestled between the OCEAN and open farm land.
I felt happy just thinking about it.
And then, I remembered what my great-grandmother had told me.
And, I got to work.
I felt the JOY and my Heart beat with happiness, as it still does when I think of the life and purpose these sites are returning to our community.
I called around to friends and members of this community. I found kindred spirits everywhere. We had meetings. We came up with proposals. We enlisted the help of other people who had good ideas. We kept going. It seems everyone had something to contribute and that continues today.
Mammy’s firstborn son was my grandfather, Bob Creech, a pioneer farmer in the Glades area during the 1920’s. He continued farming until the late 1960’s, when he retired with my grandmother.
My grandfather’s legacy to me was love of the soil. Not just any soil. I am talking about the black muck of the Glades. Granddaddy farmed when there was no farm machinery, only himself and a mule. He started farming the islands in Lake Okeechobee known as Tory, Ritta and Kramer. He survived the hurricane of 28 and helped bury the thousands who died. There is a historical marker of this devastating event in Port Myaka where many were buried.
During the Great Depression, he kept on farming, kept on buying a piece of land here, a piece of land there. “People have to eat,” he said, and so farming vegetables like sweet corn, celery, lettuce, and radishes was his way of helping, not only his own family, but the community.
“Long as we have fresh vegetables,” he said, “we’ll not starve to death.”
When he retired from farming, he kept growing, not vegetables, but flowers and plants and trees. His roses were legendary.
He was up and out by seven each morning, and had no patience for grandchildren who liked to sleep in.
“Get up! You’re missing it!” he would say. And out we would straggle.
He was right. Sunrise is not just beautiful but a visible reminder of a new beginning. Perseverance is important.
The third ancestor who gave left me a legacy was the youngest of Mammy’s eight children.
My great aunt Sara Creech, passed away several years ago. She was a businesswoman, working in the insurance industry and later running the floral business with Mammy.
Sara was the Past State President of the Florida Federation of Business & Professional Women as well as a member of the first Inter-Racial Council formed in Belle Glade. This council, composed of 15 blacks and 15 whites, was formed to effect better racial relations.
Sara was deeply instrumental in the development of the Wee Care Center in Belle Glade, realizing that education was a key to success in life and recognizing there was an undeserved population who needed equitable access to early education. This is much like our treasured community resource, The children’s Achievement Center.
Sara was always mindful, observant, and keen to right a wrong if within her power to do so. One of these observations led her to develop the first anthropologically correct black baby doll.
After noticing some young black girls playing with white dolls, she felt this was wrong.
‘If you do it out of choice it’s fine, but to have no choice, that’s wrong.’
After an odyssey which involved many prominent leaders and influential people of the day, the doll was manufactured as the Sara Lee Doll. The process was daunting during these segregationist times, but Sara was buoyed on by encouraging words from, among others, author Zora Neale Hurston. Zora had previously spoken before the Inter-Racial Council and a friendship had developed as Zora would spend time in Sara’s home.
Zora also provided letters of introduction to prominent black contacts. Eleanor Roosevelt held a tea for Sara and the doll, inviting a handful of both black and white influential citizens to help select what skin color they thought was most appropriate. Young black children from the Glades were chosen as models. This tea gained national attention and the doll was swiftly put into production.”
Years later the Sara Lee Doll and the history that went with it were exhibited at both the Cornell Museum and the Spady Museum here in our own community. Aunt Sara attended both exhibits and I was very proud to have our lives joined in this important story.
Sara’s lesson to me was the “POWER OF ONE”. Sometimes it takes a strong voice to motivate others to do what is necessary and right. However, once you have spoken, it is imperative to work together to accomplish a common goal. Cooperation is important. The power of one rarely becomes effective if it does not soon become the effort of many.
Recently, I was standing near a garden with my granddaughter, Francesca.
I said, “Francesca, when you look at the flowers, bushes, and trees planted here, what do you notice?”
“Well,” she said, “I notice that some are the same and some are different. But, you know Mimi, they are all plants. Wouldn’t it be boring if they were all the same?”
Then she skipped away.
I smiled. I am still smiling.
Instead of asking my granddaughters, Maddi and Savanna, the same question, I asked them to tell me their favorite flower….Maddi, peonies, Savanna, tulips.
Because today, as I am getting older, I want to see vividly the basket of flowers that are becoming my legacy.
With 6 grandsons and 3 granddaughters, I am observing the strength and leadership growing in the boys and I am watching the girls following my love for the arts in their study of ballet and dance.
Our legacy is not in the bricks and mortar we leave behind, but in the life and dreams and preservation of history that emanates from these very buildings we save and revere.
I am proud of my children who have found their own way of experiencing joy in our community; Noel working on the successful Mark Gerritson Fishing Tournament for 13 years, keeping alive the spirit and meaning of Mark’s life. Andrew and Christopher finding their bliss is raising 5 talented athletic sons, Nicole and my daughter-in-law Julie teaching young minds the joy of learning and ultimately nurturing that very first basket of flowers.
So now, as we gather here today, I have a question for you.
Is there something you have thought about, some idea or dream, that you have held off pursuing because of doubt, or lack of time, or lack of energy?
Would that something, combined with your imagination and the resources of others, result in helping our community in some way?
I urge you to consider this.
Think of what might happen, not if you fail, but if you succeed?
Think of the impact this one, small idea might have on the lives of people in our community today, and in the coming years. You will never know until you try.
You are each here, in this place, at this moment, for a special reason. There are no accidents. WE are all here standing on the shoulders of those who came before us and with this viewpoint we can peer into the future.
What happens here on this historical site filled with treasured archives is up to each of you. Bring these stories to life….allow the archives to teach us who we were in order to guide us to our future and DO NOT let anyone forget how important this Society is to our future…..not just our past.
I am standing here today, buoyed by the support of the members of this community who jumped on board a FARM girl’s dream and helped it to become a reality. Remember, the seeds we plant today will be found in the flowers of tomorrow.
A beautiful quote by John Ruskin says it best:
…”let our work be such as our descendants will thank us for, and let us think, as we lay stone on stone, that a time is to come when these stones will be held sacred because we have toughened them, and, that man will say as they look upon the labor and wrought substance of them, “SEE, this, our Fathers did for us”.
In closing, a beautiful Anonymous Greek Proverb paints a picture with words that could be a Monet…..
Close your eyes and paint your own with these beautiful simple words.
“A Society Grows Great
When Old Men Plant Trees
Whose shade THEY KNOW they
Shall Never Sit in.”