Another Memorial Day, another time to visit the sites where relatives are buried, clean up their headstones, contemplate dates of birth, marriage, death; leave flowers. Well, someone leaves a can of Bud on a grave near Sandy’s parents each year. Each to his own taste in remembering lost loved ones. Robin, Tim, and Kris went with Sandy and me again this year.
I always pause at my dad’s parents’ marker.
My grandfather William Harrison was born in 1855, six years before the Civil War began, and died in 1920 at 65, nine years after my dad was born. He may have been Canadian. I don’t know when the original Harrison settlers from England arrived but they first lived in Canada before migrating into Michigan. I know that Granddad completed veterinarian school in Canada. I have a pair of his gold-rimmed spectacles, one of his college books (THE PRACTICE OF VETERINARY MEDICINE for a class in 1891-92 at Ontario Veterinary College, but the book was purchased from Bad Axe Drug Co., School Books and Stationery), and his pocket watch. I posted here some time ago that on one occasion I wound the watch a few clicks, held it to my ear, and sure enough it was ticking. It was an emotional experience for me to be listening to the same watch that he did long ago.
So we go to the cemeteries now and then or on special occasions. We stand and look and think our thoughts, and lost ones come back to us more keenly than usual to visit the part of heaven we keep in our hearts.
I made a little 3-minute video two days ago, thanks to the wonderful help of Donna Spurlock, Director of Marketing at Charlesbridge. It’s about a memory from my first day of school. I can’t wait to see how it turns out and to share it with you one of these days. I don’t know the schedule yet.
What can you remember from first grade? School then was different in many ways from today’s version, but I’m going to read my first-day memory at Watkins Elementary on Monday and I bet some of the kids will understand. I’ll let you know.
BULLETIN: Hello, kids at Cowden Elementary School. I’m coming to see you today at 2:00. I predict that we’re going to have a fine time!
Sandy recently ran across her great-uncle’s 1915-16 report card when he was in 7th grade in Mt. Grove, Missouri. His name was Noel Thompson. His teacher was Lutitia Hudson. Noel did well in school. He scored 90 in geography, 95 in U.S. History, and 95 in Agriculture.
Mt. Grove is a rural area and in those days girls and boys took several courses that would help them grow up on a farm. Girls took Sweeping, Dish Washing, and Ironing. Boys took Feeding, Milking, Currying, Preparing Fuel, and Repairing. Noel received a G(ood) in currying and an E(xcellent) in the others. It looks like Noel also excelled in sweeping, dish washing, and ironing too. He was an all-around good student.
He grew up to be a good husband. He and Sandy’s great-aunt Cuba were inseparable. All the years of their long marriage they did everything on the farm together. I visited them with Sandy and her folks more than once on their place near Fair Play, Missouri. When Noel died, I bought his pea-green Chevrolet for a block company sales car. Had it for several years.
Who else came from farming people? I had several relatives, mostly near Rogersville, Missouri. So many good memories!
I’m here in Branson with my wife, mother, son, daughter, son-in-law, grandsons, sister, nephew, and grandniece. I enjoy these opportunities to be near the young people in the family. Sometimes I try to remember what I was like as a five-year-old or a sixteen-year-old. Do you do that too?
I wrote Connecting Dots that way. I started by making a list of things I remembered from my youth. At first the thoughts were random but as more and more made the list I began arranging them chronologically and focusing on what I was like at each age. From there the poems flowed and I spent the next months reliving and experiencing a good many poignant times in my youth.
If you would like to play a little exercise with me, comment below about one of your earliest memories. How old were you and what do you recall?
I’ll go first. When I was three, my parents put a turtle in our basement. The basement floor had cracks in it so sometimes after a hard rain the basement was moist and attractive to bugs. I think Mom and Dad hoped that the turtle would eat the bugs. All I knew was that the turtle was easy to slide across the floor. I don’t know how many times I slid the poor creature, probably not many before my mother discovered what I was doing, but I’m sure that the turtle was in grave danger at the hands of a three-year-old who thought it was a toy. I apologized decades later in a poem in Connecting Dots.
Have fun on Memory Lane.
Believe it or not we’re now on the backside of 2010. Time moves right along and carries us with it. I hope some of your memories of the first half of this year will inspire new writing. Memory-based poems don’t have to come from childhood experiences. As an exercise, try making a list of two or three memories from these past six months. You may be surprised at how easily you find yourself slipping into your writing mode.
Here’s my list.
1) In January my 97-year-old mother fell in her apartment and was taken by ambulance to the hospital. She didn’t break anything but was so weak when she returned home that she couldn’t use her walker. She just sat in her chair while people waited on her. My mind was filled with anxiety for her and I felt certain that she would soon be headed to a nursing home. Yet somehow she found the grit to fight back. Within two weeks she was on her walker and resuming her daily activities.
2) In February I spoke in Colorado at CCIRA. During the conference, I enjoyed breakfasts, lunches, and dinners with good friends — fellow writers, editors, and teachers — and I realized how fortunate my life has been. Along the way to making children’s books I’ve met and become close with many wonderful people who share similar interests and beliefs. I came home with the feeling that I’m a lucky man and should remember my good fortune on those days when the details of life sometimes obscure the bigger picture.
3) In March, my wife Sandy and I were guests for High Tea at the apartment of a friend who finds joy in bringing people together who may not have met previously. Charlotte’s four guests sit for a while in a cozy arrangement of sofa and chairs as our hostess skillfully guides us in telling something about ourselves and discussing our views on a variety of subjects. Before long we sit around the table, set with beautiful china and generously laden with her treats for the day including, of course, a pot of tea. Charlotte prefers her tea with milk, so I take milk in mine too. Each guest finds a small gift at the plate. Good talk continues over pastry and tea until we suddenly realize that it’s later than we realized and we must say goodbye. Each time I experience one of Charlotte’s formal teas I am impressed again that there are still people who care for fine traditions that bring people together to participate in fellowship and good talk. My friend is well into her 80s. I wonder who will keep alive her admirable traditions.
My list could easily be longer. Those three memories are only from the first three months. If you decide to try your own list, I hope you enjoy looking back at the first half of this year as much as I did. You may be surprised by the richness of memories that are still fresh. I hope you will find new inspiration to start a story or add telling details and insights to something you are already working on.
Happy 2nd Half of 2010!