Sunday, January 25, 2009


Memory is a funny thing. It can bring us remorse or sadness, but it can also allow us a delightful second chance to enjoy good times once again. A recent visit with a cousin I hadn’t seen since she was a small child and I was a teenager brought a rush of long ago memories to the forefront of my mind, not the big important things, but some of those small moments that have somehow stuck in my mind. She remembers sitting on my lap and being comforted over some small mishap. I remember an afternoon at the Idaho Falls zoo with her mother frantically trying to keep her from putting her fingers in her mouth. I remember her big eyes and long blonde curls. She said she remembered me being kind and pretty. I think she might have confused me with one of my sisters. We reminisced about family reunions, horseback riding at my family’s farm, eating salmon steaks and drinking cokes at her family’s city house. Long after we parted I continued to think of the small moments that make up a life. There are the big momentous occasions, but it is the smaller half-forgotten ones that bring unexpected bursts of warmth to our hearts and a smile to our lips.

My younger brother and I were playing in our playhouse, an old car without wheels or a motor, when I did something, I honestly don’t remember what, that brought an “I’m going to tell Mama” from him. He took off running for the house and after a moment I began running too. I was a firm believer in the school of thought that proclaims a little girl’s conscience is that instinct which propels her to tell her mother before her little brother gets a chance. He had a head start and I tripped, slowing me down. I arrived at the kitchen door just in time to see my brother skid across the wet floor my mother was mopping and plop down rear first in her mop bucket. Whatever I did, it was worth it.

My dad taught me to drive when I was about five or six. He stuck me in the cab of his truck, wired blocks of wood to the gas pedal and brake so I could reach them, then while I was sitting on the very edge of the seat and looking down a long length of field between rows of potato sacks he told me to line up the little light on the front bumper with the potato sacks and just aim like it was a rifle sight. It worked. He and a neighbor bucked the heavy sacks on the truck as I steered the slowly crawling truck the length of the field. At the end of each row, he jumped inside the cab, turned the truck, and I began aiming down another row. I was pretty proud of myself at the time and felt so grown up. I doubt today’s drivers’ education teachers would approve.

Remember your first prom? I remember mine, but not for the reasons other girls might. I was head-over-heels in love with a guy a few years older than me and he asked me to the prom well ahead of the big dance. I had a gorgeous dress, borrowed from my brother-in-law’s sister in another town. The big dance was all my girlfriends and I could talk about. The day before the prom I came down with the mumps. The night of my big date my escort appeared at my door anyway and presented me with flowers. He assured me he’d had mumps when he was a little boy and wasn’t concerned about being infected by being around me. I vowed that night that whoever I married (whether it was him or someone else) he would have to be as kind and thoughtful as that young man was. (I didn’t marry him, but he did set a standard by which I measured every guy I dated after him.)

I once received a prestigious national journalism award. My publisher flew me to San Antonio to collect the award in person. At the banquet where the awards were to be given, I felt a little intimidated to be surrounded by people whose bylines I’d read in the big papers and faces I’d seen on television. When my name was announced I walked to the dais on legs that felt like rubber. The person presenting the award made a little speech, then paused, before making an announcement that went something like this, “Along with Ms. Hansen’s award the governor of her state, Scott Matheson, has sent her a congratulatory telegram expressing his congratulations and their state’s pride in her achievement.” For him it was likely a moment’s thoughtfulness, for me it made one of those sweet icing-on-the-cake memories I’ll treasure always.

A few years ago I taught a family history class. It wasn’t the names and dates sort of genealogy class, but one where I was teaching the participants to write their personal histories, or in other words, tell their stories. At one point I asked everyone to think of some small event that happened much earlier in their lives and write about it. It wasn’t to be a big thing like a birthday, baptism, or something like that, just some small memory that had stuck in their heads. It was fun to read the brief essays, usually just a paragraph or two, and see how many times the person writing suddenly discovered some personal meaning in the incident. I believe it is the small incidents that woven together, mark whether a life is rich and full, and provides the memories that carry us through the difficult times. I’d like to pass on the challenge I gave to my class members to all who read this blog. What are some of the small incidents that somehow enriched your life or provided a chuckle years later?

1 comment:

Nancy Campbell Allen said...

Jennie, what a great post. I love that prom memory of yours. What a great guy.

One of my most favorite memories was the summer of my 16th birthday. We spent it in Norway with my mom's family and it was six weeks of so much joy and love and peace. I absolutely loved that trip.

Thanks for the prompt to remember it!