The value of stories retold

Vivian Hogue
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A few of Vivian Hogue’s personal items that evoke special memories. (Mike Kemp photo)

by Vivian Lawson Hogue

The autumnal time of the year is often one that prompts reminiscing, whether about recent or long-past matters. We may remember people, experiences or items in our past, usually suggested by unexpected sights, sounds, touches, words or smells.  

I can still call into my senses the smell of my grandparents’ log cabin – old wood, both in the structure and in the kitchen’s woodbox of kindling for the woodburning cook stove. The interior walls of red oak logs and chinking were covered with newspapers topped with ancient wallpaper. Besides the hum of resident dirt-daubers, it held the many decades of scents of cooking, fireplace smoke, Granddad’s rope of chewing tobacco, cedar at Christmas, kids growing and the elderly dying.

One of my favorite items of remembrance is small. It is my dad’s 5X to 20X “loupe,” which is a set of three tiny magnifying glasses of varying strengths and diameters that fold into a protective housing. They are used by many professions, but in his field of botany, they could help observe small identifying characteristics in plants, rocks and soils. He would sit at our coffee table with plant or soil samples spread around while doing his “homework.” Sometimes he would call me over to look at a miniscule bloom through his loupe that hung from around his neck by an old black shoelace. The shoelace is still attached, although broken and shortened now by its 80-plus years of use.

Before the 1750s, men and women left handwritten notes at the home or business they visited but found the person not present. By the late 1800s, “calling cards” were the fashion and could be very elaborate. They had their own system of etiquette or presentation and were collected in special books. Today they would correspond to business cards of about the same size. 

My mother’s calling cards remain in a book covered with dark red velvet and trimmed with metal corner protectors and a lock. The pages contain spaces for several cards, each with four diagonal slits into which the card corners fit. The cards have her embossed name and the usual richly-colored motifs of flowers, hands in friendship and perhaps an uplifting message. Some have raised or two-dimensional designs. One can step back into the 1890s in a second just by turning pages.  

On my 30th birthday in 1973, my mother presented to me an endearing gift.  She had decided to have my baby shoes bronzed. I felt so cherished, so fortunate to have had such shoes as a toddler, but I did notice there was only half of a pair. The details came when I discovered her handwritten note, folded and proudly tucked inside the shoe. She wrote, “Vivian, this little shoe was worn by Noel in 1939, then again by you in 1943. Noel will get the other one for his birthday in July. Love, Mother.”  

I still treasure it, but it reminded me that as the family’s last child and only girl during mid-World War II, it was the beginning of my wearing boyish hand-me-downs. A photo of me as a 3-year-old wearing some anonymous brother’s leopard-skin patterned swim trunks is all the proof I need to make my point.  There were a few times she did get excessive with ruffles and ribbons. I would bet, however, and sincerely hope she wouldn’t have reversed the situation had I been the only boy and the rest were girls. The older brothers do insist, though, that as youngsters they were forced to serve as mannequins for young girls’ dresses she made for a college sewing class assignment. They were good at telling eye-rolling ‘‘enhanced” stories, but I do believe that one was true.

My keepsakes of my children’s art work, notes and cards are safely stored and there is a box of vintage 19th- and 20th-century photographs of people and places, many unlabeled and unnamed. Although others could view them and be reminded of other times and people, no recollections will be like mine nor will mine be like theirs. Indeed, not everyone can have an Aunt Zula who removed her prosthetic eyeball and false teeth to the shock and delight of my children. 

Everyone has a story and is a story. The story may become “enhanced” over time, but if it produces a smile or tear, it is worth telling.