Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Back-to-school lessons shape the lives of children


My back-to-school memory triggers—the smell of chalk dust, the clang of the big bell in the school belfry, and the sight of wooden desks attached to each other with metal rails along the floor—will not be my grandchildren’s’ triggers.  They will remember the smell of whiteboard markers, the sound of electronic buzzers and PA systems, and metal desks, some with computers on top.

Everything is different. But I hope they learn some lessons, either in school or in life, that are the same: That they grow by doing the most challenging jobs; that mistakes are part of success, and that there’s no place like the dinner table at home.

My mom said: “Life is hard, but you can do hard things.”

D. Todd Christofferson, noted attorney and church leader, tells of a cold late winter day when he was 12 years old. His father was out of town, and the family’s ewes started birthing. His grandfather left work, picked Todd up from school, showed him how to deliver a lamb and then returned to work, leaving him to deliver 12 more lambs. 

He says, “Doing this difficult job was the biggest self-esteem builder I ever had—far more meaningful than hearing ‘You’re such a great guy,’ from adults in my life.”  

Here’s another lesson I hope the grandkids learn—“Work hard, expect that you’ll make mistakes, and keep working.”

During the women’s gymnastics at the 2012 Olympics, the commentators hyped some competitors so much that those watching expected perfection.

Gabby Douglas had won gold a couple of days before—then she made a misstep on the balance beam.  Afterward, as the commentator fell on his sword, Gabby was nonchalant.  She’s made a mistake, and the world was still turning.  A wise parent or coach had taught this gracious young lady how to handle both flawless performances and boggled ones with gratitude for the opportunity to compete. 

Finally, just as Dorothy of Oz learned, there’s no place like home—especially when the family eats together.  Marion Cunningham, a cookbook author who died recently at the age of 90, said, “No one is cooking at home anymore, so we are losing all the wonderful lessons we learn at the dinner table.”

“Too many families seldom sit down together; it’s gobble and go,” she wrote, “eating food on the run, reheating it in relays in the microwave as one dashes off to a committee meeting, another to basketball practice. As a result we are losing an important value.

“Food is more than fodder. It is an act of giving and receiving because the experience at table is a communal sharing; talk begins to flow, feelings are expressed, and a sense of well-being takes over.”

My husband and I raised five children, and meetings, sports, and school activities competed with the family dinner hour. We fought to eat together as often as our schedules allowed, because, as Ms. Cunningham said: “The table is the place where you learn who you are and where you came from.”

Monday, August 6, 2012

Cinnamon rolls, tears, and memories of an everyday hero


Kevin S. grins up from our fifth-grade class picture. His gap-toothed grin and the sparkle in his eyes show that the photo was taken before November.

One day in 1964, Mama said, “Get dressed and have a cinnamon roll.”

Wow! Eating Mama’s cinnamon rolls at 7:30 a.m. was like having a decadent dessert instead of a mundane meal. Mama and Daddy made sure we ate a good breakfast every day: hot cereal, eggs or Dad’s sourdough biscuits and pancakes. Sourdough lovers said they were fantastic. I ate them but didn’t love them because they tasted sour.

Mama was generous with BBC (butter, brown sugar and cinnamon) and let her rolls rise to a tender fluffiness. Truly a caramel roll, they didn’t require a superfluous powdered sugar glaze.

To my nine-year-old mind, it was heaven to wake up to those rolls and a glass of cold, creamy milk from Swiss Miss, the family cow.

Ecstasy turned to agony, though, when Mom said, “Take these rolls over to your friend Kevin’s house.”

My friend Kevin? I had no friends named Kevin. Kevin J. and Kevin S. were in my class, but neither was a friend. They were boys, and as such, were bitter enemies to me and the other four girls in Mrs. McNee’s class.

“Mama! Why are you giving cinnamon rolls to Kevin’s family?” Mama’s eyes were swollen. Her voice broke as she answered softly, “Kevin’s daddy died of a heart attack last night.”

I was bewildered. My Dad was several years older than Mr. S., and there he sat, savoring a roll, looking solemn, but healthy as a horse. Fathers of children were not supposed to drop dead. It wasn’t part of the job description.

She was hustling me into my coat and mittens. “Mama!” I wailed. “You can’t make me go to their house all by myself!”

“Don’t drop them! Be nice to his mother and tell her how very sorry we are, and then get yourself to school,” she said as she crammed a wool hat on my head.

I inhaled to whine, and Dad raised his eyebrows at me. My arms ached from the weight of the rolls, but they warmed me as I trudged through the snow.

I managed to knock on the door, and there was Kevin — the smartest, mouthiest kid in our class, oddly quiet — but for a moment, when he smelled the rolls, he grinned. His little sisters pushed back their tangled hair and grabbed hungrily for the warm treats. His mother was nowhere to be seen.

Years passed. Perhaps there were times when Kevin and other members of his family wanted to die. But they choose to live. Mrs. S. remarried. Kevin wrestled in the 145-pound class and was voted senior class president. He went on an LDS mission, became a lawyer, married, fathered children and lost his first wife to cancer. His thick brown hair slipped away and his balding visage graced the covers of telephone books, shining with his enthusiastic smile.

If I need a lawyer, I’ll call Kevin. He was the first person whose suffering broke my heart.

How to manage your photographic legacy


My mother worshipped babies. She was happiest with a baby in her arms, and when she couldn’t hold a baby, she’d take its picture.

As her grandbabies grew up, she still worshipped them and took their pictures. Years after her death, we still find huge deposits of photographs that she developed into double prints. Her legacy is that we get to sort and preserve them.

Full disclosure: I haven’t “managed my photographic legacy,” I’ve “mangled” it.

Most, not all, of my photographs taken from 1976 to 1999 are in albums, with sporadic labeling and skimpy chronology, and certainly without cute scrapbooking in plaid, ribbons and lace.

At least I got them out of the “magnetic” (sticky page) albums that were so bad for photos, an effort that set me back 10 years in photo organizing.

Around 2000, we got our first digital camera and sailed into a new world. We developed photos only for special occasions and stored them in a huge file on our computer. This library grew and grew until a nuclear bomb blew up inside our computer and annihilated it.

OK, it wasn’t nuclear, and it wasn’t a bomb, but the results were the same.

Yes, I’ve learned valuable lessons and have picked up other useful tips I plan to implement soon!

1. Take pictures. Mom had it right. She knew how quickly babies grow, and she shot pictures in the moment. If you never shoot it, you’ll never have it.

2. When a digital camera makes you so giddy with power that you take numerous shots in the quest for the perfect one, remember to delete the duds.

3. Delete duds in dog-eared boxes or albums, as well. Over-exposed and under-exposed, multiple shots and photos where nobody looks good go into File 13. Scenery pictures can go if they have no special significance.

4. Label, label, label. People you know today will look like strangers in the misty future. This applies to both hard copy photographs (use a fast-drying acid-free pen or a No. 2 pencil on the back of the photo) and to photographs on the computer, because it’s a lot harder to find that darling photo of Baby Joshua on his big brother’s bike when it’s labeled IMG 2397 instead of “Joshua Mike’s bike ‘79 Nampa.” Label with names, date (approximate if you’re not sure) and place, if possible.

5. Sort into albums or files on the computer however you’d like — chronologically, by person or by event.

6. Scan photos to your computer and save them on places such as hard drives, external drives, online storage services and CDs. Store a set away from your home in case of disaster.

7. Never laminate photos, and use albums with pages that cover and seal photographs and that are archival safe and lignin and acid-free.

8. Store albums in a dark box, all in the same place so you can “grab and run” in an emergency. Fires that destroyed homes this summer burned irreplaceable photos.

9. Look at your photos often. Mom’s photos bring me close to her, Dad and to others. What a legacy!