Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Three Stories


My grandfather, Heinrich Hansen, was drafted into the German army in World War II. At the time, he recognized that the Nazi party was fundamentally evil, and he applied to the medical corps so that he could fulfill his duty and not be out killing others. Such a transfer was rare, but with prayer it came through, and he spent the war taking care of the wounded, mostly stationed in Norway.

As the war ended, he traveled back to find his family in Germany, and as soon as he entered American-occupied territory, he was seized and put in a detention camp as a POW. He was there six months before he was released.

Finally reunited with his wife and sons (my dad and uncle), they eventually immigrated to America, settled in Utah, and then my mom and dad met, and that’s another story.


For a long time, I’m pretty sure it was before I was born, my mom played the bass violin in the Utah Symphony. Soon after I got here, my dad’s work took us all (Dad, Mom, my sister, and myself) to Washington DC, and then to Terre Haute, Indiana. We moved there when I was six, and they still live there, now. I moved back to Utah at 24 years old.

While they were raising us in Indiana, mom kept at the bass, playing in the Terre Haute Symphony. TH was a small town, but, being a college town (Indiana State University), there were a lot of good players in the music school, both in faculty and students. The local paper’s arts critic always hated them, but I always liked going to the concerts as I was growing up. All that time, I also was playing the ‘cello, and mom made arrangements for a good friend of hers, the Symphony’s principal cellist, to give me private lessons.

Throughout my years in high school orchestras, and the youth symphony, I played the cello primarily, but I did dabble a little in the bass. When I started playing rock instruments, it was the bass that I picked up first.

Years later, when I was working as a teaching assistant in Downtown Salt Lake, a colleague and I started an acoustic blues duo with me playing one of the school’s uprights, and he playing slide guitar. We’d practice at lunch and played at a few of the school assemblies.


Yesterday, my parents came out to visit us here in Utah. They’d recently moved into a smaller home, with a smaller yard, since mom’s getting too weak to care for the big huge yard any more. As a result, they spent a lot of time digging through some almost 40 years of stuff that had accumulated in the house on 34th street. And they brought some of it out for us (my sister and I).

One thing they brought for was Mom’s bass. What a thrill! As I opened it up and picked a few notes, it was very hard to keep from tearing up. Ever since I had done the duo, I’d wanted a bass, and now I have one with a powerful personal legacy.

My dad also brought me a small box, the kind that personal checks come from your bank in. He opened it up and showed me a set of wooden chess pieces. Angular, and hacked and mangled over many, many years, they really showed wear. He told me that these chess pieces had been hand-carved by my grandfather while he was in the POW camp. The amazing thing is that they are all still there.

So, today, I’m still kinda reeling from the overwhelming sense of history and of my own generations. I’m so incredibly grateful for the lives of those that have gone before me, and all that they’ve taught me. That’s the REAL legacy. But it’s also nice to have some tangible artifacts as well.

Mark Hansen


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