Legacy of Generosity

One of the greatest legacies that a person can leave to his or her family is the endowment of generosity. Some people might mistakenly believe that it costs too much to be generous but what is actual truth is that no one can afford to be selfish. When I choose to be greedy and am continuously hoarding what I have been given, the price that is exacted from my life and from the lives of those around me, is too expensive to pay.

I come from a long line of givers and it is the most valuable birthright that I possess. The giving and the lavish generosity that has flourished in both strains of my family heritage are legendary and world changing. My mother still supports a missionary family that my late father’s family started to support in the early days of the 20th Century.  We have supported this family of missionary pilots for 4 generations. How I love this legacy and call!

However, the story that stirs all of us is the story of my maternal grandfather, Nelson Boyce. His was a heart so filled with the desire to show charity and human kindness that his name is still uttered with awe among the Seneca Nation in Western New York.  Nelson Boyce started a family business with his father and brother when the 20th Century was still in its infancy. They sold biscuits, crackers, and bread out of three wagons in New York, Rhode Island, and in parts of southern Canada. One of the most successful products they made was a cookie that consisted of two chocolate wafers with vanilla cream in the center. They dubbed their small family business, “The National Biscuit Company”.

Nelson lost his first wife in childbirth and had raised his two sons alone. When his sons were nearly grown, Nelson met a beautiful young woman, twenty years his junior, who was an orphan raised by the nuns on Prince Edward Island. They married after a whirlwind courtship and began their family in the mid-1920s in western New York. Because of the success of Nelson’s business, his young wife and daughter enjoyed a life of comfort and luxury among the upper crust of Buffalo, NY.  He employed a fulltime maid as well as a nanny to help his young wife make the adjustment to married life. Mary, Nelson’s wife, was known for her fashion flair and was always dressed in the latest style. She had her hair bobbed, wore cashmere coats with mink collars and celebrated life with genuine zest and gusto.

However, the Boyce family, which was respected for their business acumen and astute economic sense, saw the Depression looming on the economic forefront of America and rather than lose their business, they sold it while they could still make money from the sale.

Nelson, with his part of the profits of the sale of the biscuit company, bought a general store and a simple family home in a small town in western New York. The Depression hit this small town with devastating effects and the little general store struggled to stay afloat in the worst economic days America had ever experienced.

By the mid 1930s, Nelson had three young children, Marianne, Joan and Donald, to support as well as his wife. This family who had been accustomed to designer clothes and maids now wore patched clothing and lived like most other families did during these days of economic woe, with never enough to eat. But Nelson made sure that his family knew the joy of faith, giving to others, and togetherness. He was determined that what he was unable to offer in material goods he could more than make up for with his undivided attention and unconditional love.

Nelson continued to tithe to the Alabama United Methodist Church and made sure that the pastor’s family always had food on their table. He invited dirty, vagabond people to celebrate the holidays with his family who had no means of celebration or even daily existence. Human kindness and daring generosity were as much a part of Nelson’s personhood as were his balding head, his large nose and his contagious laughter.

The days of the Great Depression dragged on and on for nearly a decade and Nelson was desperately trying to make ends meet while keeping the doors of his country store open. Then there were the fierce days of winter to deal with as well. How would he keep his family warm with no money to buy coal?

Nelson poured over the accounting books of his struggling store in his dark, cold office and asked God to make a way where there seemed to be no way. He kept his Bible open on the desk and often read the Word of God to fight off the fear of poverty, of starvation, and the cold.

Nelson’s general store was right on the edge of an Indian reservation and one day when Nelson was in his office praying over the books, a family of Indians walked into the store and asked to see Mr. Boyce. The humble father of the family told Nelson his children were starving to death and wondered if they could buy food on credit.

Not hesitating a minute, Nelson loaded up their ancient truck with groceries and had them sign their name with an “X” because neither the mother or father knew how to read or write. He assured them they could pay him when they had the money.

The next day, two more families came from the reservation and by the end of the week, Nelson had given groceries to nearly a dozen Indian families. The conversation was always the same, “Sign your name with an ‘X.’ You can pay when you have the money.”

Although this made no sense in the natural, the economy of God has never made sense in the kingdoms of this world. In the middle of a devastating depression, when other businesses were closing and declaring bankruptcy, the Alabama General Store began to show a profit on their books. The store became famous for its fresh produce and excellent meat selection. People began coming from a radius of over fifty miles to shop at this obscure, family-owned market. They traveled from Lockport, Rochester, Buffalo and Southern Ontario to buy the grade A meat and outstanding fruits and vegetables that were only found in the tiny town of Alabama, NY.

Nelson continued to give the groceries to the Indian population that they needed to survive, always asking them to sign their names with an “X.” He kept a special account book just for those who lived on the reservation and as the Depression marched on, the pages were filled with thousands of dollars of indebtedness.

When World War II broke out, the Indians no longer came to the Alabama General Store as often because times had changed and they were now able to make a living. Many of their sons, the little boys whom Nelson had fed, now fought and died in service to their country. At the end of World War II, Nelson was diagnosed with diabetes and he knew his work on Earth was nearly done. One evening, he had his wife, Mary, call the Indian chief to their small home. Nelson held the ledger book in his wrinkled hands that detailed the accounts of the thousands and thousands of dollars owed to him by the Indian nation. 

Nelson asked the Indian chief to follow him to their backyard where Nelson’s son, Don, had prepared a roaring fire. Nelson, his wife Mary, their three children, and the Indian chief watched the ledger book and the thousands of dollars of indebtedness disappear and burn into oblivion. Nelson had his miracle. It began the first day he gave what he could not afford to give. The miracle of abundant life is what God always provides for givers.

The world says that earning exorbitant salaries, the accumulation of material goods and then hoarding everything that one possesses are the benchmarks of a truly successful life. The Bible says that God provides for givers. There is a special place in the heart of God for people who are bold enough to give with genuine joy and who show cheerful generosity in times of scarcity. My heart’s prayer is that I will be bold enough to pass down what has been given to me. I pray that the legacy that I will endow to my 5 children and to all of the McLeod’s yet to come is simply that God takes care of givers. 

There is no richer legacy than that of generosity.

“We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.”- Winston Churchill