|Director John Ford.|
|Monument Valley from "The Searchers."|
John Ford is the only director who has won four Best Director Academy Awards. His legacy, in which he is called variously one of the top three directors ever or, by Orson Welles, the best, is enviable, defies challenge and endures. It is said that regardless of where his westerns were set, he filmed them in Monument Valley. It is land that I will always associate with him, as though he gave it voice.
Any of us who make things - poems, stories, movies, art, meals - must secretly harbor at least a faint wish that some of our efforts live after us. My maternal grandmother was not an artist in a professional sense, yet it was her recipes for tamale pie and rice pudding that I wanted served at my wedding. My late cousin and I learned as girls to make her Cornish pasties. If my son can be lured away from his Mexican and Asian dishes, perhaps he can be the next pasty generation.
As I write this on Father's Day, I think of the body of work my father created and how it still breathes. A younger writer with whom he became friends has taken on the task, to which he seems most dedicated, of compiling Dad's biography, including decades of newspaper columns, magazine articles, children's books and, especially, books about car travel throughout California. The author has shared facts with me that I never knew. I can't say it is immortality, for who knows how long any of our species will be here on this warming planet (Werner Herzog is not optimistic), yet the words Dad wrote, the immeasurable time spent in research and interview, contributed to material with lasting value. He has become, in his way, part of California history, recounting and, by doing so, preserving.
He also left his three children with a model of caring deeply about California's ancient trees and desert lands, native people, about the precision of words. We lived and watched as he practiced his craft, utilized his gifts, established solid professional footing. It was not a democracy, our childhood home, and the wide shadow he cast likely left indelible marks. Still, we became soft in ways we had not witnessed, soft meaning willing to adapt, to surrender to what could not be changed. We learned to find and revere what spoke to our hearts, to do our best to see that certain values were honored, elevated. We know that unnameable parts of us, parts of which we have become fond, would not exist had our raising been different. Legacy is a shape-shifter, coyote one moment, spirit guide the next, variable as fog off the rocky coast of Big Sur. Through intention or chance, we leave our mark. Legacy means we remain.