The Bridge that Mrs. Henderson Built
Life speeds by as a changing tide of both small and big events that leaves in its wake only memories and eventual acceptance that nothing ever stays the same.
It also allows us to witness what others will someday study as history.
When I was young, I truly believed that the distance between me and any historical events was immense. Even though I loved studying history and was a voracious reader of biographies, I still thought that events simply happened, were over and everyone moved on.
And then I met Mrs. Henderson.
Born on February 5, 1885, Blanche Henderson was literally a pioneer. In 1904, at the age of 19, she graduated from the Oregon Agricultural College (now Oregon State University) with a degree in pharmacy.
A few years later and on her own, she became a homesteader near Madras, Oregon. After she married fellow homesteader, Perry Henderson, she surprised herself by becoming a teacher.
As far as I know, she never had any of her own children, but she obviously loved kids. And she showed that love to me.
By the time I met her, she was a widow living alone in a small, two-bedroom house with minimal furniture. She was also well over 90 years old.
I have absolutely no recollection how our friendship began, although I’m guessing my mother, a journalist, introduced us.
Once those introductions were made, the unlikely relationship began. My mother would take me to visit Mrs. Henderson, and she would always serve me half-melted ice cream from a freezer that wasn’t keeping her food cold enough.
Neither of us cared.
What I did care about was listening to her stories, and what she cared about was sharing them.
As I thumbed through her coffee table book of Norman Rockwell prints, she told me about attending the 1905 World’s Fair in Portland. She even gave me a fan from it, a souvenir she’d kept all those years and that I still treasure.
She told me about witnessing a stagecoach robbery when she was a little girl. “I thought the men had dunce caps on their heads,” she said. “My father had to tell me they were holding their arms about their heads because they were being robbed.”
As Mrs. Henderson talked about her experiences and about how the world had changed, I began to recognize that, what was history to me, was simply life to her. And wanted me to be able to touch it too.
Mrs. Henderson died shortly after my family left Oregon, but the lesson she taught me has stayed with me: each person can be a bridge between the past and the future. But that only happens when we reach out to future generations and develop relationships with those whom we may think we have little in common.
Thanks to Mrs. Henderson, I’ve actually touched the historical 1800’s. If I stretch myself far enough, I might be able to reach the 2100’s too.