Saturday, December 20, 2008

This Remembering Business

My dad was president of his senior class, 1947. Below is his "Message to Seniors", published in the "Red and Black," which I assume was a school publication.

Message to Seniors

Grandpa used to tell me about Ernie Hensen. He said that Ernie was the grandest fellow that ever put two feet on this earth. Ernie was a Swede (his folks brought him over when he was just a little tot) with an accent as merry and twinkling as sleigh bells on a winter night. Grandpa said that he and Ernie were always doing something for each other. Ernie would help Gramp into town with a load of chickens or give him some well-water when Grandpa's well went dry in the summer. Or maybe in the fall Grandpa would go over to Ernie's place and help with the butchering or clear a few more trees off the back end of the west pasture. As the years passed, they became great friends. Theirs was not just a passing acquaintance: it was warm, permanent friendship--maybe you could say love.

It was the summer when I was fifteen that Grandpa took me over to Ernie's place and showed me the evergreen (it was a rare species) that he gave as a memorial to Ernie's son who was killed in action in World War II. They had it planted in the front yard, and summer or winter this tree was always fresh and green--a living memorial. Ernie and his family treasured it and took good care of it, too.

Last winter when I heard that Grandpa had died, I thought of that evergreen tree. I thought to myself that here is a tree which is not only a memorial to a war hero but a symbol, a living object which represents a friendship between two old farmers. For this gift between them is like the bond of friendship which tied them together. Like the evergreen, their friendship was something that they both held dear to their hearts, something which was always fresh and growing, which never changed with the season, something that can never fade or fail no matter what may come--even death.

Seniors, we're going out into the world. We're scattering in all directions. We don't have anything like an evergreen to plant that will serve our memory. We have only the memory. Let's plant that in our hearts and never forget the wonderful friends we've had in school and the swell times we've had together. Write to your old friends; send them Christmas cards and wedding announcements, or in any way keep in touch with them. Don't let friends slip off with a casual wave of your hand! This remembering business is one of the finest parts of living.
-President of the Senior Class

"This remembering business in one of the finest parts of living." My dad wrote that almost 62 years ago, yet it's as much a part of his life today as then--probably more so--and he transmitted that respect for memory to me. I don't know how I learned it, except in knowing him. There were a lot of fine things I learned simply by knowing him.


Chet Gresham said...

Great! Thanks Grandpa! That was wonderful.

Chet Gresham said...

"Two things significantly distinguish human beings from the other animals; an interest in the past and the possibility of language. Brought together they make a third: Art."

--Jeanette Winterson