Luther and Jane Turner (1937)--my great grandparents

I was in Seattle visiting my family recently and someone noted the scar on my neck from a thyroid tumor. She said, “You’re a downwinder, aren’t you?”

Hadn’t heard that word in a long time. I actually grew up in Spokane, on the eastern side of the state, in the path of the prevailing winds north and east of the Hanford nuclear reactor. Hanford was developed in the 1940s as part of the Manhattan Project. Residents and workers alike heard about the true nature of the work going on there with everyone else—on the morning of August 6, 1945. Plutonium from Hanford was used in the bomb that fell on Nagasaki.

It wasn’t until 1986 that the Department of Energy released a 19,000 page report on both routine and accidental leaks of toxic byproducts that spread over 75,000 square miles. In “Atomic Farmgirl”, Teri Hein tells the story of growing up in the rich soil of the Palouse and almost every family’s loss to cancer of one kind or another.

That single word, downwinder, took me back to my childhood and my heritage. I am the great granddaughter of a homesteader, Luther P. Turner—also known as the Wheat King of the Inland Empire. A part of his once vast farm holdings in the state still belongs to my family.

What really struck me was the power of a single word unlocking a slew of associations and vivid memories. It’s what we all try to do as communicators—know our audience well enough to actively draw them into our cause or product with just the right word or phrase.

It is a good communicator’s skill to find that keyhole opening at the top of the pyramid of your offering that literally sucks people in because it resonates so deeply.