Gathering Strength From the Past – Hank Smith at RootsTech 2017
Did you know that when you learn stories about your ancestors, it actually gives them power to reach through the centuries and touch you?! At Family Discovery Day last week, Hank Smith, popular speaker for youth, shared how knowing a story from his family history helped him make a good choice. (See the video of Hank’s address here. And don’t forget to watch the bonus video at the end of this post!)
Hank was a teenager trying to fit in at a party and someone handed him a bottle of alcohol. He couldn’t believe what he was holding! He was afraid his dad was going to ground him forever.
Three weeks earlier, his dad had given him a big book of family history and said, you should read this. Hank was 16 years old and thought to himself, “I am never going to read this.” There was a lot of black and white, pictures of unhappy people, pictures where you can’t tell who is grandma and who is grandpa. Hank’s dad opened to a page with a photo of Hank’s 3rd great grandfather Hans Rasmussen who joined the church in Denmark. He was wealthy, but when he became a Mormon, he lost social acceptance.
Hans decided to share his money with other ward members and funded their trips to America. They went to America themselves and joined the Hodgett wagon company, which was with the Martin Handcart company. During the journey across the plains, one of their baby twins died. This means a lot to Hank now because Hank has twin babies himself. The Rasmussens were asked to settle Ephraim, Utah, where they lived in a cave (a dugout)! They had no money.
After hearing this story, Hank thought to himself sarcastically, “thanks Dad.”
Back to the party and the bottle of alcohol: Hank wanted to get out there without looking uncool. He didn’t know what to say or do. Then he thought of his ancestor, watching him with his arms folded standing in front of his cave, saying “you can do this. I lived in a cave. You can do this.”
Everyone noticed that Hank hadn’t said anything and was just looking at the bottle. While everyone was looking at him, Hank felt like he was going to say something awesome and the six other guys would go on missions with him. But then he said, “I like orange juice.” So someone took his bottle away and gave him some orange juice. Then he found his friends and told them, “there’s alcohol here, let’s leave,” and they left the party.
Hank said, “It’s almost as if my 3rd great grandfather reached his hand through the centuries, grabbed that drink and pulled it out of my hand, saying “this is not us, this is not our family.”
Hank was grateful his father told him about his ancestor Hans. He said, “It’s almost as if when we learn about the past, we gather strength for the future.”
Now, Hank is like his dad, choosing what stories are going to be told and retold, the stories that will stay with his children, the stories are they going to keep and pass on.
Hank then told a story that he wants to make sure his children don’t forget. It was about his father-in-law, Rod, the happiest person that ever lived. He grew up in Richfield, Utah, where he met a girl named Marlene, at age 8. Later, he took her to prom, and they eventually got married. They started a tradition of taking each new baby on a tour of the house. Rod would carry the infant around and say, “this is where we’ll have family home evening, this is where we’ll eat dinner…”
When the kids had grown and they had been married for 47 years, they found out Marlene had stage 4 liver cancer. When her time was short, Rod was about to lift her from her wheelchair and put her in bed for the last time. As he wheeled her to her bed, he stopped.
Hank said, “moments of faith like this have to be recorded, have to be passed down.”
His father-in-law said to all his children who had gathered there, “ let’s take Mom on the tour.” Rod wheeled Marlene around the house. In the living room, he said, “47 years of FHE.” In the TV room, he said, “How many hours have I rubbed your feet here.” In the kitchen, he said, “47 years, and you are the greatest cook on the planet.” Marlene smiled as if to say, “you liar!”
After Marlene passed away, Hank asked Rod, “how are you doing this?” Rod said, “this is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I feel like half of me is gone. But I’m a happy person. I’m a cheerful person and that’s not going to change. If I need to live without her for a while so I can appreciate her more when I get her back, I can do that.”
Hank wants to make sure this story is told. He said, “My children need to tell that story to their children and their grandchildren.” Then he remarked on the importance of parents telling those stories and making sure they are recorded and passed down in a way that will make them compelling to the listener. He said, “We need to commit to making sure those stories are passed down.”
You can probably tell thank Hank is into stories. He likes them a lot. He wants his headstone to read, “he was a storyteller.”
I had a chance to sit down with Hank a couple of hours before his RootsTech talk and chat with him about telling stories. Here is a video of part of that interview, where he tells some storytelling tips: