Flash in the Pan

A Quarterly Posting at Tiny Lights

More Than Genes

by Ronda Armstrong

After my mother-in-law died, when we're sorting through her things, my sister-in-law hands me a stack and says, "Here. You should have these."

Knee-deep in boxes and belongings, I look at the pile in my hands. It's my mother-in-law's stash of writing things. A blue-three-ring binder labeled "Writing" is full of notes she took in writing classes, samples of essays and fiction, and ideas she compiled for her own stories. Along with the notebook are books about the writing craft, a bulging file of finished assignments, and others she'd started.

I often extol the legacy of strength that I received from my parents, Wesley and Marybelle, which included their creative resourcefulness and their "I Can" perspective for problem-solving. But now, surrounded by items reminiscent of my mother-in-law's life, I'm aware that I have inherited a piece of her creative legacy. Deep down I'd known it, but today it is real, like reading a will: "and to my beloved daughter-in-law, Ronda, I bequeath my creative legacy."

My mother-in-law, Mary, had been a registered nurse by profession. In her 50s she began painting oils on canvas. By the time she died at 91, she had painted an impressive collection. Painting was one way she honored her love of beauty and expressed her creative spirit. Her writing built on that spirit. She took classes to hone her craft, entered and won writing contests, wrote articles for newsletters, and kept in touch with family and friends.

I didn't view myself as artistically creative until after I'd taken a values survey in 1999. Surprisingly, creativity and beauty came out on top. Caring and compassion were close, but I expected them to be first. These results nudged me to think differently. I wondered, "Was I creative?" Soon after, my mother-in-law came to visit.

After she looked around the house, she pulled me aside and said, "You have quite a flair. I just love all the creative touches you've added!"

Her praise affirmed my new creative vision.

During the ensuing years, she encouraged my creative pursuits. When I retired a year ago, she urged me to write more. As her health waned, I sent her cheerful cards. To entertain her, I also included snippets of my writing. Although her health continued to decline, her enthusiasm for my writing remained strong.

I'm proud of the values I received from my parents and other relatives, ones like persistence, patience, courage, integrity, and caring. Now, after my mother-in-law's death, I ponder if legacies passed on are more than genes, more than the models we grow up with. Even though I don't have my mother-in-law's genes, I'm certain that I inherited a piece of her artistic creativity. I respond by taking up the mantle. I write, just like she dreamed I would. I nurture my special brand of creativity. Is inheritance more than genes? Yes. I know she'd agree.

As I write, I remember her oft-said words, "Keep writing!" And so I do.

Ronda Armstrong and her husband live in Des Moines, Iowa with their two cats. She is a retired social worker who writes personal essay and memoir, poetry, and fiction. Two of her nonfiction pieces appeared recently in THE DES MOINES REGISTER. She enjoys ballroom dancing and connecting with family and friends.

Fifteenth Flash

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