Who are the “wise ones” in your family? You know… the ones who know where all the skeletons are hidden? Maybe it’s the great-aunt who loves to entertain the guests at reunions with exaggerated tales of scandals? Perhaps it’s the quiet elderly gentlemen who keeps the young’uns captivated with tales of his days in the Merchant Marines?
Rather than seeing the elderly as frail, out of touch, and boring, try seeing them with new eyes. Their bodies may be frail, but their minds are often active. Even those with dementia often reliably recall the times of their youth and have fascinating tales to tell! They are the eyewitnesses to history, a time before social media, an untapped source of knowledge. While some of the details may be wrong from a historical perspective, their perceptions and emotions surrounding the events are probably far more interesting!
This photo of my dad and grandfather was taken a few years ago. Granddad is 99 years old, and he’s an example for people half his age! Decades ago, he documented our family history. Being a man of science, the records are impeccable: tabs, cross-references, footnotes, and source documentation in tidy bibliographies. Every nugget was mined before access to the internet was commonplace. He traveled to churches, cemeteries, town halls, libraries, and took meticulous notes all along the way. The result was a true masterpiece, but the recollections and tales of everyday moments, they mean the most to me.
A small town boy working at a lumber mill in Maine, who makes his way to Washington DC and the realm of science, research, and laboratories.
A forearm tattoo. The final remnant of a teenage boy’s excursion to the carnival, and the follow on tale of a pack of boys with infections!
Miles and miles in a motor home with my Gram and their little white poodle.
The next time you visit an elderly family member, enjoy the opportunity. Find the voice recorder app on your phone, ask permission before recording, and prepare to be wowed! Here are a few questions to get you started:
- Who named you? Were you named after anyone in particular? Did you have a nickname?
- Did you know your grandparents? What do you remember about them?
- Who was the craziest kid in the family? What kinds of things did he/she do?
- Who was your best friend? What kind of fun things did you do together?
- What did you dream of being when you grew up?
- Did you have many girlfriends/boyfriends? Where did you go on dates?
- How did you meet your spouse? Who chose the wedding rings?
- What is your favorite memory of a family vacation?
- What would you like your great-grandchildren to know about you?
- What was Christmas like at your home?
What are the favorite stories from the “wise ones” in your life? Share with us in the comments!