I heard that she had passed away, gone to the arms of Jesus. I have a smile on my face and a tear in my eye for my friend, Mrs. Elenor Van Pelt.
Mrs. Elenor had just celebrated her 89th birthday. She was young at heart, generous, and had that kind of sweet toughness that only a real lady has after having lived a full, adventurous life.
We were recent friends but had been linked across the generations through a family connection spanning longer than a century.
We first met over email two years ago (yes . . . an 87-year-old emailing) after being connected by my Aunt Shug. Mrs. Elenor was still in possession of a bank given to her by my grandmother’s grandfather. Since it was a gift from my great great great (did I get the right number of greats?) grandfather, I boldly asked her if I could purchase it from her. She said, no, she was not ready to part with it, but someday if she changed her mind, she would contact me.
About six months later, I got this note from her:
"I am now ready to pass on my reindeer bank which was a baby gift from Dr. J.C. Eckles when I was born on January 4, 1930. I feel certain that my parents, Thelma and Sylvan Kramer, put the ten dimes from the bank into a savings account that they opened in my name at the Maryville Federal Savings and Loan on Broadway."
The ten dimes she received in 1930 would be worth about $20 today, and I offered to pay a lot more, but . . . the value of the Reindeer Bank can’t truly be measured. He may be a little guy—only about five inches tall—but he has a well-traveled story as big as all outdoors. It’s a story about Generosity.
The day Sharon and I dropped by to see Mrs. Elenor, I thought I was picking up a 100-year-old heirloom from a sweet lady in assisted living. Instead I gained a new friend and a deeper understanding of a legacy passed.
We talked and talked. I got to hear her story and things about my ggggreat grandfather Dr. J.C. Eckles. Having studied our family tree and stories, I knew that Dr. Eckles had traveled the South after the Civil War as a circuit riding preacher. I’m blessed to have the Bible he carried in his saddle bags in those days.
And it was fun to find out that Mrs. Elenor and her minister husband, Austin, spent time on the mission field in Alaska ministering to the Eskimo people. Austin was so distressed over the hunger problem of the people he was working with that he petitioned the U.S. Congress for funds to fence and herd reindeer as a consistent food source to do away with the hunger problem.
The irony that the Reindeer Bank was in their missionary home, having traveled thousands of miles from Tennessee to Alaska and now back to my home in Tennessee is not lost on me.
A Bible and a savings bank. The things to help others with. The things to build a legacy of Generosity with. Not at all lost on me.
Almost 90 years ago, Generosity caused my ancestor Dr. J.C. Eckles, a former circuit riding preacher without much money, to give this Reindeer Bank to Mrs. Elenor at her birth. Generosity caused her and her minister husband, Austin, to give their lives away for others. And almost 90 years later, Generosity returns the Reindeer Bank to me and my family. Now, every time my grandchildren hear The Reindeer Bank Story, the legacy of Generosity will be carried forward.
So, what about you? What legacy are you building and passing? How are you using your numbered days to help others and carry Generosity forward?
Even in the last email I got from Mrs. Elenor, she shared the lasting value of looking and living forward:
"I, too, look forward to spring! At our home we have daffodils blooming in the courtyard below my balcony."
Rest in peace, my generous friend. I suspect there are daffodils all around you now.