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THE GIFT OF A LEGACY
By Jim Stovall
David C. CookCopyright © 2013 Jim Stovall
All rights reserved.
Life and Death
We have life as long as our heart is beating, but we live as long as our heart is filled.
I was remembering the last time Sally May Anderson had graced my office with one of her periodic visits. I just sat at my immense, ornate desk and let my thoughts drift back over the decades, rich with memories of Miss Sally.
When one's life is dedicated to handling people's legal matters, the clients generally limit their visits to times when they're confronted with a crisis or a dilemma of some sort. Miss Sally's appointments were more like an event or a happening that everyone in my law firm anticipated with great eagerness.
My name is Theodore J. Hamilton, Esquire, of Hamilton, Hamilton & Hamilton, Attorneys-at-Law. Of the aforementioned Hamiltons, I am the first. The remaining Hamiltons in our organization are made up of my son and grandson. Having two generations of my progeny competently functioning within our firm gives me a unique perspective. While I am hopefully not over the hill, I certainly have reached the crest from which I can see a long and satisfactory career behind me and, with any luck, some interesting challenges and opportunities ahead of me.
The photos in the montage on my credenza were taken at my eightieth birthday party, which was organized by my colleagues here at the firm. I gazed at each of the photos and noticed that Miss Sally was prominently placed in most of them. Having lived eight decades plus a little gives one an interesting perch from which to observe the world. My half-century of practicing law has brought me satisfying measures of fame and fortune as well as a number of treasured friends. When people are confronted with legal issues, they not only need a competent attorney, they need a caring friend. I like to think of myself as both.
The mementos and trappings of my long career that adorn my office remind me that I am more a product of the twentieth century than of the twenty-first. But if I am a product primarily of the twentieth century, my friend and client Sally May Anderson was clearly a product of and ambassador to the nineteenth century. Miss Sally brought a gentility and wonder for life to everyone and everything around her.
The last time I saw her, she had been rapidly approaching her hundredth birthday. As usual, she wanted to see me about a legal matter pertaining to her home, known by everyone as Anderson House.
Anderson House was originally built in 1862 by Miss Sally's late husband's grandfather, Colonel Milton Anderson. The home was the most spectacular residence of its time and has remained so throughout the ensuing years. When Miss Sally's beloved husband, Leonard, passed away almost fifty years ago, she turned the vintage home into an idyllic bed-and-breakfast. Anderson House Bed-and-Breakfast became Miss Sally's domain and passion for the next fifty years.
Miss Sally's home was a destination and sanctuary for world travelers, as well as a dining or overnight getaway for city dwellers like me who simply wanted to get out into the country and savor a bygone time in a very special place with some amazing people.
One never knew who might be in residence at Anderson House. During my most recent stay, I met the Heavyweight Champion of the World; a young man named Tracy who was an award-winning filmmaker; a former President of the United States; and a gentleman I will never forget ...
Just as I was leaving Anderson House's parlor, which is the gathering place for guests most evenings, I spotted a small, stooped elderly man in a tattered Army uniform. I introduced myself, and he told me his name was Joshua. He had come to Anderson House every year since World War II for a reunion of his regiment. Miss Sally's late husband had been their commander.
Each year, they would come to Anderson House to share old stories and memories, and they would end the reunion by saluting one another.
Joshua lamented, "I'm the last one living, so there's no one here to salute."
I felt a wave of emotion and patriotism and said, "Sir, if you'll accept a heartfelt salute from an old Navy man, I would be honored."
Joshua and I exchanged salutes.
That is just one of my many priceless memories from Anderson House.
Without thinking, I reached forward to the spot on my desk where I knew my cup of tea would be sitting. I had picked up the habit of drinking steaming-hot tea every day sixty years ago during a two-year excursion to Korea, by way of invitation from Uncle Sam. Upon returning to the United States after my stint in the Korean War, I continued to drink tea, but it became a lifelong habit courtesy of a life lesson from Miss Sally May Anderson.
Shortly after passing the bar exam, I opened my law office. At the time, it was not the highly respected firm that Hamilton, Hamilton & Hamilton currently is, housed in our palatial offices. Back then, the shingle outside the door modestly read Hamilton Law Office, and the environment certainly did not give my prospective clients a feeling of confidence.
One particular morning, the bell on the front door of my office rang, hopefully signaling that I had a prospective client, but more likely announcing the arrival of a salesman or another person looking for the dental office down the hall.
I leaped up from my desk and rushed into the outer office, as I was performing all of the receptionist duties in the Hamilton Law Office at that particular point in time. Truth be known, I was handling all of the duties in the office.
I was confronted by the immaculately dressed Sally May Anderson, who stood in the middle of my entryway. She smiled brightly, extended a gloved hand, and proclaimed, "I assume you are Theodore J. Hamilton, Esquire."
I was at a loss for words, so I simply nodded as she continued.
"I am Sally May Anderson, and you have been recommended to me as the right man to handle a unique legal challenge."
I already knew who she was, as she was one of the best-known figures in the region. I couldn't imagine why she was in my office or which of my meager handful of clients had referred her to me.
I motioned her toward my office, and she entered regally, as if she had arrived at the queen's throne room instead of my shabby office. She settled into one of my threadbare hand-me-down client chairs and gazed around the room. She seemed to accept everything at face value without judgment, which was a quality of Miss Sally's I came to respect and tried to emulate throughout the ensuing decades.
I asked if she would like coffee, tea, or anything else to drink, and I was relieved when she declined, as I didn't have anything on the premises to drink other than my tea, which was in a Styrofoam cup in front of me.
I knew from news accounts that Sally May had to be at least twenty years older than me, but that was hard to believe as I looked across my desk at her.
Without preamble, she reached into her purse, took out a porcelain tea cup and saucer, poured my hot tea out of its Styrofoam container into the teacup, and placed the cup back on my desk on the saucer as she tossed the disposable cup into a nearby trash can.
She stated emphatically, "I always carry one with me. Drinking tea is an experience to be savored, not a duty to be performed."
I didn't know what to think or say, so I just nodded as if I understood. She settled back into my client chair, took a deep breath, and began.
"Mr. Hamilton, my late husband left me a fabulous home and considerable resources with which to live the rest of my life. I wish to open my home to others so they can experience the wonders that it offers. I also want to make provisions so that Anderson House can continue to serve others long after I'm gone."
I began taking notes on a legal pad as she continued.
"A young man named Howard Stevens, with whom my late husband had some business dealings, told me you were his attorney and you were the man I needed to see."
Sitting alone in my office fifty years after that initial meeting, I was thankful to my friend Red Stevens for having faith in me and introducing me to Miss Sally.
When one practices law and endeavors to do it well, one deals with every aspect of one's clients' lives. When I started out as a young attorney, most of my clients were young as well. This means that in the early years, I dealt with many legal issues surrounding marriage and childbirth, as well as the launching of careers and businesses. In later decades, an attorney begins dealing with less pleasant legal tasks having to do with death, incapacity, and legacies.
This particular morning started out much as any other. I was the first to arrive at Hamilton, Hamilton & Hamilton, which has been my practice since the beginning, as I like to get my calendar, files, and thoughts organized before the inevitable interruptions from my staff and colleagues encroach.
An hour or so after I arrived, my assistant, Miss Hastings, lightly knocked on my door and entered. That simple knock on the door signaled something of great import and gravity.
Miss Hastings was my first employee when my law practice began to grow. She has remained with me all of these years, for which I am most grateful. To describe her as my right arm would leave out the many proverbial tasks she performs for me that require both my right and left arm, as well as skills and intuition I don't possess.
We have never discussed aloud the exact terms and conditions under which we work, but—over the months, years, and decades—a seamless working relationship and profound friendship has formed. We have never actually discussed that her respectful knock on the door meant anything specific, but we both knew that it did.
Following the knock, she entered solemnly, stood in the middle of my office, and announced in an emotional voice, "Mr. Hamilton, Miss Sally May Anderson passed away in her sleep last night."CHAPTER 2
PAST, PRESENT, AND FUTURE
We have a great life when we learn from our past, plan our future, and live each day in the present.
When one loses a special friend, even though that friend is approaching her one-hundredth birthday, it hurts and leaves an empty feeling. Every person who knew Miss Sally and was touched by her understood logically that they couldn't keep a treasured ninety-year-old person in their lives forever. But no amount of logic prepared them for the time when she was gone. Sally Anderson had been a fixture in our community and in my life for so long it was hard to imagine a time or a circumstance when she wouldn't be there.
On the Wall of Fame in my office, there are photos capturing the special times and people in my life and career. As I gazed at the countless photographs that represent the milestones in the life of Theodore Hamilton, it became obvious that a handful of special people had been there with me every step of the way.
Looking at the earliest photo of Sally and me, I was struck with a number of impressions. First, I was amazed that we had ever looked that young. Even though Sally was almost fifty and I was only thirty in the photo, we appeared to be contemporaries in age, but that's where the connection should have ended during that era. Miss Sally and I met and became friends during a time when wealthy, prominent white women like Sally May Anderson didn't do business with, socialize with, or even have their picture taken with a young gentleman of color like me.
Although that reality wasn't printed in any of the law books that I studied or lived my life by, a half-century ago the rules dealing with racial issues may as well have been written in blood.
But Sally seemed to transcend all of that. It wasn't that she was opposed to it or objected in some way. She just seemed to be oblivious to racism and all of the pain it created. She simply rose above it and chose to live her life on a higher plane.
As I looked at that special photo, which captured Sally and me at a place and time that existed a long time ago, I couldn't help but compare it to the last time Sally had been in my office, just a little over a month before.
We never know when our last time in the presence of a dear friend, colleague, mentor, or member of our family will be. I have always believed if you treat each day, each meeting, and each activity as if it were your last, sooner or later you will be right. Each day, the obituaries are filled with names of people who assumed they had decades of life ahead of them. Every day is a gift because it can either be the first day of the rest of our life or be our last day here on earth.
As I have stated, every meeting with Sally was a happening. She never had a routine moment or encounter in her life. Miss Sally treated everyone and everything as if it were special, and somehow it always was.
The days of me flying solo in a one-man office, serving as my own receptionist, secretary, and janitor, are long gone. Today, the firm of Hamilton, Hamilton & Hamilton occupies multiple floors of an upscale high-rise building.
Although very few people in our firm have access to my appointment calendar, somehow everyone in the building seemed to know the day and hour that Sally May Anderson was scheduled to appear. There was more energy in the office, and everyone was infused with a sense of anticipation.
Our security officer, who mans the desk in the lobby on our ground floor, had already phoned to let me know that Miss Sally's car was pulling up to the curb.
One might wonder how a security guard, whose duty requires him to stay seated at his post in the lobby, could tell that one particular car was approaching amidst all the busy downtown rush-hour traffic. But one needed only to get a glimpse of Miss Sally's classic Bentley custom limousine to understand that it's one in a million and could be spotted anywhere.
I made my way to the lobby of our offices, near the elevator, as I wanted to be standing by when Miss Sally emerged.
Our receptionist, Kelly, who is always energetic and engaging, was even more attentive than usual. Kelly is a beautiful young lady with dancing green eyes. She and Miss Sally formed a special kind of connection years ago that none of us ever quite understood.
In anticipation of Miss Sally's visit, Kelly had straightened her desk and put the entire lobby in order. And then, as she always did before one of Miss Sally's visits, Kelly placed an empty flower vase on the corner of her desk.
Several of my partners had found mysterious excuses to be in the lobby near the elevator at that particular moment in time.
As the elevator door slid open, I extended my arm to prevent the door from closing again. First, because at ninety-nine, Miss Sally didn't move as quickly as she used to, and secondly, because elevator rides were never quite long enough for Sally May Anderson, as she always assumed that the brief time huddled with strangers in a confined space was an opportunity to make new friends and introduce everyone. So, as I held the door open, Miss Sally was introducing two people she had just met to one another. Even though these two individuals had worked in this building for many years and had passed one another in the hall or ridden the elevator together countless times, it took Miss Sally to introduce them.
As the door slid closed, I observed the two former strangers chatting amiably, as if they were old friends. All thanks to Miss Sally.
She stepped into the lobby on the arm of her chauffeur, traveling companion, and assistant, Hawthorne. Hawthorne is of indeterminate age, background, and country of origin. All anyone knows and all anyone need know of Hawthorne is that he has been totally devoted and singularly dedicated to Miss Sally May Anderson for almost sixty years.
He would not even contemplate the thought or understand anyone who might suggest that he had reached an age at which he might need his own chauffeur, traveling companion, or assistant. Hawthorne knew that he was put on this earth for the sole task of serving Miss Sally, so he was always ready, willing, and able to do it.
Miss Sally graced me with her smile, which always put me in mind of an eagerly anticipated sunrise. She stepped forward and hugged me warmly, then greeted each of my colleagues who had somehow happened to be in the lobby at that moment.
Then Hawthorne led Miss Sally over to Kelly's reception desk and stepped back, allowing the two ladies a moment to themselves. Miss Sally, knowing that the empty flower vase would be in place for her visit, put some flowers freshly cut from her own garden in the vase on Kelly's desk.
Miss Sally smiled and asked Kelly, "So have you met that special person yet?"
Kelly laughed and replied, "Miss Sally, I'm still working on it and am having fun doing it."
Excerpted from THE GIFT OF A LEGACY by Jim Stovall. Copyright © 2013 Jim Stovall. Excerpted by permission of David C. Cook.
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