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.

Mrs. Henderson and Trina 1979

Mrs. Henderson and Trina 1979

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 Mrs. Hendersonthe 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.

About Trina Bartlett

I live in the Eastern Panhandle of WV, with one dog, two cats, a theater kid in high school, a band kid at West Virginia University and a husband who works strange hours. When I'm not working as a director at a nonprofit social service organization or being a mom, I can generally be found riding my bike, walking my dog and stirring things up.

Posted on June 22, 2013, in history, My life, perspective and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. Trina, I just love this post!!! I have come to realize that every day that we live puts us right in the middle of “history”. I tell this to my students every year: History is not made by the brave or the special or the brilliant. It is made by the everyday people who think that they are just going on with their unremarkable lives.
    You’ve put that into such a coherent post; thank you!!
    I wish I had known Mrs. Henderson.

    • I was fortunate to have some really interesting “elders” who played a key role in my life growing up. Perhaps I appreciated them because I grew up across the country from my own grandparents. I don’t know, just feel fortunate that I did.

  2. This is such a beautiful post Trina. Your connection with Mrs. Henderson was your bridge to the past and that connection was also her gift to future generations – through you. Not all young people find the elders in a community to be fascinating So It takes the special ones like you to make the magic happen. Reaching out to older generations, as you did, is also the key to building those bridges. 🙂

  3. I grew up with two elderly neighbours. For us it was ginger ale and cookies after we might have shovelled their walk, (mom would not let us accept cash payment for helping, it was just what one did). They were special parts of our lives, and we enjoyed hearing about their lives.

    • It’s so important to keep that connection. What I enjoyed most about listening to the stories of our elders is the huge disconnect between how history is often portrayed and how human, flawed and interesting people really are. (I bet the ginger ale and cookies were better than the soft ice cream!)

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