I’ve asked my 88-year-old grandmother, or gramz as I call her, to write about her life. I don’t expect her to recap everything that’s happened in the past nine decades, but I want to have the milestones, the memories, captured in writing.
My memory has failed me in the past, so I don’t trust it to remember all that gramz has told me about her life. When I go home on Christmas break, I’m going to sit down with her and ask her some questions. I’ll record our conversation. I’ll store it away for later use, for years from now when I’ll wish I had my grandma’s voice on tape.
Not enough old people live to tell their life stories, and not enough young people bother to listen to them. Give nursing homes some credit. They’re goldmines for journalists and anyone who appreciates the art of storytelling. Walk into one of these smelly places and, if you can hold your breath long enough, you’d be amazed by the stories you’ll hear. Stories about war. Stories about lost loves. Stories about what it means to survive in an often cruel and unfair world. The details in these stories remind us that the elderly are like walking diaries, their wrinkles the lines on the pages, their expressions pen-marks to places of the past.
Many older people want to revisit these places of the past before they die, if not in person, then at least in memory. And it’s funny how easily we can travel there with them. I’ve never been to Washington, D.C., but my grandma has taken me there so many times through her repeated recollections of her first job at the Pentagon that I feel as though I was right there with her back in 1943. If I weren’t in journalism, I’d want to teach children or work in geriatrics. I’m fascinated by children’s innocence and the tales they tell, which may explain why I often talk about my own childhood memories, secretly wishing I could revert back to childhood. And maybe that’s what the elderly want, too — to return to a time when the world seemed fresh, alive and conquerable, to come full circle and return to innocence (insert Ami chant here).
Next time you see elderly people playing bingo, bending over shopping carts in the grocery store, or cruising around town on a pimped-out motorized scooter, strike up a conversation. Listen to what they have to say. Help them preserve their story. Storytelling is an act of survival, helping us to tighten our grasp on the memories we hold dear and let go of those that drag us down. It’s these memories, both the good and the bad, that I want to write about someday, maybe in a memoir about myself, my mom and my gramz. It’s these memories that come from asking the simple question: “What’s your story?”
What do you think about “old people’s” stories? Do you have any funny ones to share?