A Means to Remember

Featured image: H.J. Ford.
“Hansel and Grettel,”
Blue Fairy Book, 1889

As children, many of us learned a little verse set to music called the “ABC” song. The simple ditty helps children learn the alphabet by rote, as they sing it over and over. Dick’s regular repetition of his list of names was a kind of rote learning.

         Physical objects also can serve as memory cues. The beads in a rosary, for example, are used to recall and count a sequence of prayers. In the “Hansel and Gretel” fairy tale, it’s stones that serve as a means to remember.

         When Hansel and Gretel overhear their parents plotting to abandon them deep in the forest,  Hansel has a plan. After their parents fall asleep, he slips outdoors and picks up small stones, stowing them in his pockets.

         The next day Hansel and Gretel follow their parents into the woods. Hansel drops the pebbles behind him. When night falls, the parents abandon the children in the depths of the woods. A full moon rises and shines down on the pebbles so they glow “like silver coins.” Hansel and Gretel walk through the night; the trail of pebbles leads them home.

         Like Hansel, Dick dropped pebbles—Jenny, Anna, Joe, Calvin, Doris, Stephanie, Alden, Jim, Rosie, Grace, Ashlyn—to mark his way home.

Anne-Marie Erickson

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