Sunday, January 30, 2011

Mrs. Jeppson, I Really Did Learn Something in Fourth Grade

I took my turn at my daughters' school when they were younger. I had lunch (another story to be told) with my second grader and taught a couple of class periods on the direct writing assessment to my fourth grader's class. Being in her class and watching the wiggles, the sighs, the teasing, the winking at each other, and listening to their writings about being nine years old conjured up my own fourth grade experience and transported me back.

Fourth grade year was perhaps my most favorite grade. I attended Menan Elementary, an ancient, black rock building, built around the turn of the century and surrounded by giant cottonwood trees. Downstairs was a cafeteria where we prayed (yes, we actually prayed) before we ate lunch and ran black erasers chuck full of chalk through a cleaning machine. Our room on the first floor had monstrous windows facing north and east. Behind the front wall was a small cloak room where we hung our coats on our own hooks. We sat on the narrow benches to take off our snow boots, snow still attached.

In the winter, we watched snow flakes quietly pile up on the ground outside. Springtime brought different kinds of birds to the cottonwoods until the recess bell rang. Then we leaped from our desks and rushed out to the huge playing area.

Mrs. Jeppson, my fourth grade teacher, was my most favorite teacher. I can remember where almost everybody sat, what books our teacher read to us, what kids were sick that year, and the crazy things some classmates did. One young man actually chased our teacher around the room with an eraser.

It seemed like we majored in multiplication drills that year. While other fourth grade classes were "drilling," we were playing games with multiplication tables. We sat as teams in rows and flipped up our thumbs if we knew the answer. Denece M. and I were best in our class. We memorized poems and recited them before the class. Mine was "Somebody's Mother." Others memorized Longfellow's "The Village Blacksmith."

Mrs. Jeppson read us Where the Red Fern Grows. The last couple of chapters were pretty tough on little boys trying to become men. The only way I could keep from crying was to let out a "meow" at the end of the book. When I did, the biggest kid in class burst out crying. Fortunately, we then could focus our attention on him and forget about our own tears, welling up inside our eyes and the knot stuck in our throats. Thank goodness for comic relief.

But I wanted to feel that emotion so I checked out the book later. After concealing it, I sneaked out to the haystack, sat on a bale of hale, and imagined myself wandering the woods with Old Dan and Little Ann. I didn't want anyone to know that I was going to shed a ton of tears. Only now can I shyly admit that I cried when Old Dan and Little Ann died.

Probably one of the highlights of my fourth grade was studying other countries. My teacher invited my father who had spent time in Japan after the war to come and talk to us about his experiences. He came and visited with us about Japan, its customs, and the Japanese's feelings towards Americans. He even brought along his "geisha girl." She was absolutely stunning all dolled up in her brightly colored kimono and Japanese make-up. Not until I looked closely did I discovered she was my mother. I felt quite proud my parents would take the time and come to the class.

We learned about other things, mostly from other students in class. Denece taught us the proper way to eat soup, spooning it away from us. A Hispanic girl taught us about Spanish customs. After she left during the school year, she still sent letters to us, describing her new surroundings and school, and Mrs. Jeppson would read them to the class. I even had a crush on Susan, the most beautiful girl in class--or so I thought from 4th grader's perspective. We learned about life that year and how it connected to the real world.

Unfortunately, Mrs. Jeppson has long since passed. But when I contemplate her influence on us and how she propelled us to think beyond the bounds of the classroom, it becomes intoxicating to step inside another classroom and drink of the students' enthusiasm.

Thank you, Mrs. Jeppson, Mrs. Williams, Mrs. Poole, Mrs. Parks, Mrs. Eames, Mr. Baldwin, Mrs. Frew, and all the rest of teachers. I really did learn something from being in your classrooms.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Menan Buttes: Lasting Treasures

As you pass over the Snake River Bridge which divides Madison County from Jefferson County, you can see to the west the Menan Buttes, two ancient volcanoes sticking right up in the middle of prime farming country.

As a kid growing up in Menan, I remember my dad telling me stories about the Buttes. One told an outlaw who robbed the Menan bank and hid loot somewhere on one of the Buttes. People came from around the country and tried to find the money, but all they found were jackrabbits, acres and acres of sagebrush full of ticks, and a few rattlesnakes–certainly not the riches they were seeking.

I never found the robbers’s buried riches either, but I discovered a more lasting treasure. A friend and I were tired of taking dates to the movies, so we decided to try something different–a hike up to the north butte in the dark without flashlights. We called a couple of girls (I won’t mention their names, but you know who you are) and told them we had a spectacular date all planned for them. All they had to bring were some hiking shoes and warm coats.

We picked them up, drove down the Substation Road across the Snake River, and headed down the bumpy road to the Menan Buttes. After we dodged “washboards” for about a mile, we four-wheeled it halfway up the north butte and stopped. We made sure the parking brake was one, and I stuffed a huge lava rock in front of each tire. I didn’t want to walk back home and have to tell my dad about a smashed vehicle.

Although the moon beamed down like a searchlight, the girls wanted to know if we had brought flashlights. Of course, we had, but we told them we were going to climb up the north butte using the moon’s rays as our lantern and drink the hot chocolate we had brought in a giant thermos.

It took us about half an hour to reach the top. We walked around the rim to Red Rock and sat down. What a view! Luckily, the wind wasn’t blowing as hard as my dad said it would. The stars sat so low it seemed we could reach out and touch them.
While we talked and laughed about walking though the dark and drinking hot chocolate from half-smashed cups, we surveyed the valley.

Rexburg looked like a giant runway of lights. Menan’s lights twinkled in a dozen spots in the valley. All around us farm lights shimmered in the darkness like tiny fireflies. Even the lights of Rigby and Idaho Falls to south lighted up the sky.
Just across the river, Gunderson’s dogs yipped, and their Holstein cows mooed. A cock pheasant called out from somewhere down by Miller’s slough.

Soon it was quiet. Our laughter and lightness had dissipated somewhere, and we talked about ourselves and the problems we probably would be facing.

I was ironic that on top of Red Rock overlooking our little world and sipping hot chocolate, we matured, while the wind stirred up bits of red dust and carried them down into the crater.

As we climbed down, we felt a new sense of who we were--or at least I did. We had seen our little world, even though it only spread at that time from Rexburg to Idaho Falls. But we were part of it.

Although it had been thousands of years since the Menan Buttes had spewed their last river of smothering lava, that night they came alive for us for about an hour or so. Instead of suffocating ash, they sprinkled us with a new vision, so we could see beyond to the next horizon.

Now, as I pass by the Buttes, I feel that meandering Snake River somehow feeds them through an underground tunnel, keeping their roots alive, so the old volcanoes can sit there, century after century, like giant medicine men, waiting for their followers to gather on their rims and partake of their secrets.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Be of Good Cheer

I thought since my last post was about "good cheer," I thought I should post a poem about good cheer that I wrote after reading President Monson's talk about "Be of Good Cheer."

Be of Good Cheer
(from President Thomas S. Monson’s conference talk, Ensign, May 2009, pp. 89-92)

For us to be truly cheerful,
we must lift our heads high,
shun the notions

of misfortunes and utterlessness,
and sing Hosannas
even during the most difficult times.

We must rise from our beds of affliction,
having faith that God is with us—
For He has said time and time again,

“Be of good cheer, and I will lead you along.”
With a promise of that magnitude,
why we do still sit idly by, often wrapped

in tattered blankets, slumped in armchairs
or buried deep in our beds, singing
“Woe is me, woe is me?”

Cannot we not be like the German widow
of whom President Monson spoke—
When her children died,

she dug graves with only a tablespoon.
“Her despair was all consuming….”

the spirit prompted her to get on her knees.
With a fervent “Dear Heavenly Father”
and with more despairing words

and a heavy, heavy heart,
she knew that she must trudge forward,
ever forward, ever faithful, even on moonless nights,

knowing, finally, some day, some day
that she would be reunited
with those whom she loved

and “return— together—“to her Heavenly Father.
For the Lord has said to her and to us,
“They who have endured the crosses of the world,

and despised the shame of it,
they shall inherit the kingdom of God….
and their joy shall be full forever.”

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Be of Good Cheer

Much to our chagrin and our mothers’ anguish, all of us were born as obscure creatures, mostly hairless, helpless, and hapless and of “no consequence in the world” (Joseph Smith–History 1:22-23). Since that time, many of you have grown hair, some more than your parents have wanted; become helpful in positive ways; and have received some fortuitous wisdom along the way. Others of you have remained in a quasi hapless state, mostly by your own choices. What will matter most from now until the day you die is how you have risen from your initial obscurity to your status in the world–whatever that might be.

What I have personally discovered is my yearbook did not, thankfully, define my ultimate destiny. It may define the ephemeral and the now but not the future and the eternal. My discovery—and rediscovery over the years—is this: With the help of my Heavenly Father and good leaders, I define my way; I create my own happiness.

“To be of good cheer” is a phrase that many of you have heard before and one that we all need to adopt to see life in the way we need to. Before moving to Miles City, my family and I read Dr. Spencer Johnson’s (1999) book Who Moved My Cheese. It was a delightful, thought-provoking book, that helped us transition from Idaho to Montana—new schools and friends for the girls and Joanne and a new college presidency for me—definitely changes for all of us. While we knew that change was self-induced, one thing we learned, though, was that no matter what happened or what choices we made, our happiness hinged solely on our ability to adapt to change. Oliver Wendell Holmes sums up nicely what we should do with change: “We must sail sometimes with the wind and sometimes against it,—but we must sail, and not drift, nor lie at anchor.”

Not one of us will escape this life without some sort of challenge or challenges. According to Elder Maxwell, “There is no way that we can be a part of the last days and have it otherwise (Ensign, November 1982, p. 66). That’s why we have come—to gain experiences that we may return to our Heavenly Father, stronger, more faithful, and understanding whose we are—for we are God’s—and ready to create kingdoms of our own.

Many of us will face challenges that are beyond the scope of the rest of us. As we contemplate our own challenges, we must lift up our heads and look around us. For what we will see, if you truly look closely, is that others’ burdens are more likely than not to be heavier than our own. We must believe we are the ones in control of what we do—only with the Lord’s help. We are the ones who create our own happiness, our own cheer. We must adhere to Virgil’s philosophy of old: “They can because they think they can.” Therefore, think away and be successful!

From the holy scriptures we read, “But, behold, the righteous, the saints of the Holy One of Israel, they who have believed in the Holy One of Israel, they who have endured the crosses of the world, and despised the shame of it, they shall inherit the kingdom of God, which was prepared for them from the foundation of the world, and their joy shall be full forever” (2 Nephi 9:18, bold mine).

Can you imagine having our joy forever? That means that you will be eternally happy, primarily because you have inherited the Kingdom of God and will dwell with Him forever and ever, and you know and feel that Heavenly Father loves you. There will never be a doubtful thought. You will not feel depressed or melancholy ever again.

The Lord tells the Prophet Joseph “But learn that he who doeth the works of righteousness shall receive his reward, even peace in this world and eternal life in the world to come” (Doctrine and Covenants 59:23). But the key phrase to have this “peace in the world and eternal life in the world to come” hinges on those who “doeth the works of righteousness.” And yes, the reward is great, even eternal.

Our role in this life is to re-discover that joy, that cheer, that feeling of knowing, that someday we again will shout with joy and cheer because we returned valiant to our Father-in-Heaven. Won’t that be like Alma when he said to his son: “And oh, what joy, and what marvelous light I did behold; yea, my soul was filled with joy as exceeding as was my pain!” (Alma 36:20).

Thankfully, the Lord will be there to help us—as He always does: “Wherefore, be of good cheer, and do not fear, for I the Lord am with you, and will stand by you” (Doctrine and Covenants 68:6)…..

Sunday, January 23, 2011

I'm Back: My Blog is Now Open....

I apologize to all of you who have been faithful viewers and readers of my blog. Last fall, I basically withdrew the reading of my Hammon blog from the general public because certain individuals used bits and pieces of my content, took them way out of context, and then wrote disparaging comments in their own pathetic writings.

While I am a believer in the free press, it would be nice--actually, professional--to see people actually do real research before writing. Taking snippets here and there and bits and pieces from uninformed people and then attempting to write factual material is not real reporting or writing. It is just plain creative fibbing with trappings of truthfulness. In fact, if people really want to know about me and what I think or what I do or what I have done or the choices I have made, they probably ought to visit with me personally, face-to-face, cara a cara.

Taking things out of context, twisting them for their own pleasure, visiting with people who really don't have a clue or don't see the truth if it is placed before them on a beautiful piece of china, and surmising what might be or what might have been without ever really getting to the facts create challenges all around. Literally, that type of writing lacks authenticity and truth and hovers on the abyss of very bad, even convoluted, writing. With a mere shove--or even a flick of one single finger--it should fall into that evil abyss, clinging to its morass of shoddy writing and shoddy research while crying forlornly until it crashes to the bottom, never to raise its ugly, vicious head again.

If you read something about me, and I did not write it, and if it doesn't sound like something I did or might have said or done, chances are that the writer did not ask me any questions before writing the essay or the article. Some people have a tendency to go off half cocked and not really have any of the facts straight.

Unfortunately, in our media-driven society, we sometimes want to believe those people and what they write when, in fact, they have no facts at all. Thus, beware of those wayward souls who feel inclined to write about things they know nothing about and then attempt to conjure up stuff to "enlighten" or "inform" their readers. Unfortunately, most of the time, what they write is mean and vicious and contains not one shred of truth.

I personally adhere to the LDS Church's 13th Article of Faith: "We believe in being honest, true, chaste, benevolent, virtuous, and in doing good to all men; indeed, we may say that we follow the admonition of Paul—We believe all things, we hope all things, we have endured many things, and hope to be able to endure all things. If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things" (Articles of Faith 1:13, Bold mine).

I will be posting writings, poems, reminiscences, essays, talks that I have recently given in various Sacrament meetings (these may be a bit long although I will insert snippets), thoughts on a variety of items, photos, etc. Many of my photos are on my Facebook page.

I truly appreciate your willingness to slog through a few of these writings. I think it is important to let people know who I am, how I am, why I am about, what I am about, and how I think. My writings are not to persuade you to do anything; rather, they are to inform.

So, I apologize for being off line. Now, read away. I do have one favor of those who read my posts: If you have a question about them or don't quite understand what I am saying or thinking, please do not hesitate to contact me. The only way to get to the bottom of a particular writing or posting is to contact the source. I am the source; so, please contact me.