I am sitting in one of Elsie’s favorite places, surrounded by memories of her and Clifford, aunts and uncles, cousins and second cousins once removed. The chair is in the kitchen at the farm house she and Clifford bought in 1942 just outside of the village Chaffeys Lock, an hour north of Kingston. The chair is still the same colour I remember as a kid and this indescribable mix of welcoming and uncomfortable. The large oval table that still dominates the room is equally blue, although a little (maybe a lot) more worn.
Elsie and I spent a lot of time here during my summer visits. I can still see her sitting in this chair looking across the living room though the window that opened onto the Rideau Canal. She loved peeling apples right here so she could watch the world passing one boat at a time. This witnessing wasn’t filled with wanderlust or envy: she was genuinely thrilled to see something that brought her pleasure. I’m not sure why but watercraft literally floated her boat.
While stiflingly hot, the past three days at the farm have been fun to revisit a place that is so important to our family and a key part of my upbringing. I often saw Elsie modelling her four simple words here, serving her family many ways including fresh applesauce, keeping a close eye on us grandkids and leading important family conversations.
The other two words that Elsie passed on to me spoke to her confidence, good fortune and (as I have come to learn) her privilege. ‘Elsie’s luck’ was a favourite expression of hers and she would use it often when things just rolled her way. Which to be honest, they often did. Not a big jackpot win, but the day-to-day joys of having just enough room in the pot for the apples. Or enough note paper to finish her letter. Or gas to get back to Kingston from the farm. Even having the exact change to leave for the ‘milk’ delivery. (True story: they had a milk delivery cubbie at the side of their house in Kingston that was for actual milk delivery in the 40’s and 50’s. By the 70’s she would leave money for grocery delivery in it and they would magically appear! Kingston apparently had its own Amazon Fresh before the internet was even a thing!)
I’ve come to realize that Elsie’s luck wasn’t, well, luck. It was a frame of mind about how she lived her life and. And, it was something she made.
How does this tie back to servant leadership? Attitude. Elsie was framing her day-to-day life the way she wanted: positively and with gratitude for having enough of what she needed. Elsie’s luck was a self-talk tool that (I’m guessing and pretty sure I remember) empowered her to get stuff done even in the hard times. Again, with a lens of the white, middle-class economic and social comfort she enjoyed, Elsie was doing her best to create the mindset she needed to serve and lead others. It makes sense doesn’t it? My ability to serve others is very much a reflection of my attitude toward myself. The more I love me, the easier it is to serve you.
I am so lucky to have family traditions and physical space that I can revisit. I know everyone doesn’t have that same gift. Reconnecting with Elise this summer has been a great place to reflect on this Four Simple Words adventure (so far) and think about what we want to do in the fall. This journey has been inspiring and as we wind down Part One of our learning, I am excited about what is coming this fall. Stay tuned: together, we have some big and exciting work ahead of us. #ServantLeadershipForEveryone