By Sam Payne
It’s remarkable how little coaxing a memory needs before it floods your brain as a full-fledged story – bringing back to you a living, breathing part of your life that may have retreated to a foggy corner of the past.
Not too many days ago, Dr. Eric Eliason sent a handful of his students to the Apple Seed studios to tell personal stories for each other in front of our microphones. Dr. Eliason teaches a folklore class at Brigham Young University, and has brought classes to the studio before. It’s one of our favorite things to do, gathering, archiving, and broadcasting stories from students at the University, and we always look forward to visits from people who haven’t had that experience before. They tend to enter the studio as classmates, and leave as kin.
Midway through the sharing, we heard a story from Mikaylie Hebbert about her grandfather, who, on a family picnic, brought a long, metal wrench, with which he swatted a bear on the nose as the bear got too curious (As Mikaylie told her story, I had no idea that she’s the daughter-in-law of Mary Ann Maxwell Hebbert, an old family friend. This is one small world). Like lightning, my brain went to the story of my own grandfather, who, on a mountain drive with his kids (among them my father), saw a deer out the car window. He stopped the car, rolled down the window, and said “C’mere, Deer,” upon which the deer walked obediently over to the car. This was my grandfather who used to take business trips from California to Utah, and when he returned home would hand over souvenir tortoises he’d wrangled off the desert. These things happened a generation before me, of course, but important family stories were comprised of them. I haven’t thought of these things in years. And then, whoosh. As Mikaylie told her story, back they came, with very little bidding.
From Left: Sam (holding the family goat, "JB"); Sam's brother, Joe (holding his cat, "Tiger"); and Sam's brother, David. Behind: Sam's grandfather, Leland Jay Payne.
Flash forward to last night. I pulled into the driveway after a long day and yanked the mail from the box as I went in the door. There was only one piece of mail; a circular from Mason Shoes, founded in 1904 by a German immigrant named August Mason and his son, Bert. The Masons cut their teeth as shoe manufacturers by hand-making boots and shoes for Wisconsin loggers and river men. After the Forests had been logged bare, Mason Shoe salesmen peddled shoes and boots door-to-door, all over America. And if the origin of Mason Shoes sounds like an esoteric piece of knowledge to have at my fingertips, it’s only because my grandfather, (toward the end of a life that had already included a handful of years making cartoons for Walt Disney, 30 years of managing the Mormon welfare program in Southern California, and nearly eight decades in service to the Boy Scouts of America), was a Mason Shoe salesman. Mason shoes were sold by part-time sales guys who worked from their homes and sold shoes to their friends and neighbors. We Payne kids all wore Masons because we each got a pair every year around Christmastime. Grandpa’s old Honda Accord has a gold bumper sticker on it that said: “Ask me about Mason Shoes!” Devoutly religious in a suburban California neighborhood, Grandpa stuck a copy of the Book of Mormon inside the box of each pair of shoes he sold – encouraging people to find a walk to walk in their new kicks.
My grandfather died just as the millennium turned, in the year 2000. I haven’t thought about Mason shoes in almost twenty years. And I don’t know why the circular wound up in my mailbox.
But boy, did it open the lid on a bucketful of memories. Ever happen to you?
After all, it’s remarkable how little coaxing a memory needs before it floods your brain as a full-fledged story – bringing back to you a living, breathing part of your life that may have retreated to a foggy corner of the past.