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"We're Authors"

My Life Stories group continues to get together monthly to socialize and share more stories. I joined the group this morning at the local Denny's. What fun! I learned that last month they showed up at the restaurant on a busy day and received assistance from an assistant manager as well as a waitress. "Which group are you with?" my students were asked. "We're authors," one of the quick-thinking group members replied. Before they knew it they heard other patrons referring to t

My mother, a lifetime of serving others

At age 88, my mom received the annual Celestine Park Distinguished Service Award this weekend. That reminded me of a story she told me when I interviewed her some years ago about her life: Vagabonds were common in rural Dubois County during the Depression, going from house to house begging for food. One such gentleman, a one-legged World War I veteran, traveled my mom's neighborhood between Jasper and Celestine several times a year, staying at the local school overnight to st

2 Vietnam veterans, 45 years later

We are about halfway through the class I am leading at the Habig Center in Jasper. Each of the nine sessions is to be an hour long. I knew I had a good group to work with when, on Day One, we all stayed two hours talking and getting to know each other. The two men in the class are both Vietnam veterans who didn't know each other before the first day of class when the first to arrive greeted the other with, "Welcome home, Brother." One of those men and two of the three women,

Remembering those who left us way too early

We completed another Life Stories class last week. As always, I asked the "graduates" to share anything they wanted from what they had written over the past two months. Two of the women shared with the group the stories of their children dying, one as a teenager and one as a preschooler. When we started the class nine weeks earlier, neither woman thought she'd even write about those deaths because of the pain the memories caused. Yet here they were sharing those stories aloud

Rehabilitation on the side

I have two Life Stories classes going on. Of the four women in the room during one recent session, three of their fathers had worked for the railroad in one capacity or another. The classes are a history lesson. One of the women, who had a stroke several years ago, is remembering parts of her past in real time as I ask questions. The classes also are rehabilitative. #writing

Another reason to write your story

A 95-year-old woman who wrote her life story with me shared the story with her family. Her son, who is a doctor, pointed out that she hadn't mentioned that a particular hereditary disease runs in their family. She doesn't have it, and neither of her children does. But if she mentions it, Her Son The Doctor pointed out, his grandchildren and their children and their children who read her story will learn that they, too, could carry the disease. Her written story, he said, migh

Accepting change

On the day before her home was going to be auctioned last month, 90-year-old Helen said she was OK with the impending sale “because I know I can’t live there anymore.” Now residing in a nursing home, she was confident that selling the house, several outbuildings and seven acres (the rest of the 160 acres is in a life estate) would deter theft and vandalism and hoped that the future tenants of the house would enjoy it as much as she had. A few days later she reported that she

Knowing your priorities

On a bright sunny day in August 2014, an 87-year-old woman sits at a small table in her room at a Jasper nursing home and jots notes on a small piece of paper. She is recalling events from her past — her wedding, her travels, her jobs — that she wants to be sure to include in the life story she is writing. In front of her are 6-inch quilted patchwork blocks, a tidy pile of printed fabrics, a sewing machine, a cutting mat and various sewing-related notions. The quilt blocks ar

Amazing Grace

Some of the questions asked during a recent class referred to memberships, including church affiliations from childhood. One octogenarian in the early stages of dementia remembered belonging to the church choir. He cited "Amazing Grace" as his favorite song — and spontaneously sang a verse. He sang softly, so not everyone in the room heard him. But I did. #writing

Sheet of paper not handy? Write your story on a bedsheet instead

Writer Elisabetta Povoledo had a story in The New York Times last week about the National Diary Archives Foundation in Pieve Santo Stefano, Italy. It was founded in 1984 by Saverio Tutino and houses more than 7,000 memoirs. "Tutino believed that everyone is one of many, and together we become history," said Loretta Veri, the archives' former director who now raises money to support it. Tutino "used to say that we are privileged to hear the rustle of others, that paper voices

Telling a story without words

I think I'd recognize these hands — never idle — anywhere. The beautiful and telling wrinkles, the raised veins so close to the surface of the skin, the moles, the tan that has come with a lifetime of farming and gardening, the trim nails protecting fingertips that always bear a stain during strawberry season. They belong to my 87-year-old mother, who on this July day was dicing home-grown green beans for canning. One of my sisters took this picture. It's a companion piece to

Blue suede shoes and other notes

When senior citizens start talking about their lives as young adults, the stories get really interesting. I find out how they met their spouses — dances were popular venues — and the lengths they went to to see each other (most didn't have cars of their own, so hitchhiking and walking miiiiles were common). One woman in my current class met her husband when he broke in while she was dancing with another; I thought that happened only in the movies. Another couple had their bri

Your story is worth writing, and sharing

As part of the "graduation" of the Life Stories class at St. Charles Health Campus yesterday, each of the participants shared part of her story. One woman shared about how as a child of age 7 and 8, and despite being in a body cast, it was her job to baby-sit her younger siblings while her parents worked in the field. Another shared about how she earned her GED in midlife and how she ran the family's hog farrowing house. It was pretty obvious that until they shared their stor

A class open to the public

My next Life Stories class will be open to the public. It will start in July and will be held on Friday afternoons at Brookside Village nursing center in Jasper. To learn more, including how to register, see the "Classes" section under the "Life Stories" heading. #writing

Your unique handwriting

When this particular round of Life Stories writing comes to an end in another month or so, I'll likely type the stories that these women have been writing. (I've been encouraging them to post-script details to what they have written and not to worry if the individual stories are not in chronological order. We'll tidy it up at the conclusion of the project, I promised.) But I'll encourage each of them to include samples of her handwriting in her final work. #writing

"People like you"

I stopped by the nursing home today to work one-on-one with some of my "students." I paid impromptu visits to a couple of others to see how their writing is going. I'm glad I did. One of the women, who has written on two topics during the past four days despite a change in medication that makes her tired, told me: "I'm glad we have people like you to show us and help us bring (our memories) out. Otherwise we might not find them." I've known for a long time that volunteering i

Missing "some school"

After a handful of weekly sessions with half-a-dozen women (most are in their 80s; one is in her mid-90s) whom I am helping to write their life stories, they are coming to understand that although we have many shared experiences, others are truly unique. All are worth getting down on paper. When I asked the women if they had been in any accidents or had any illnesses in their youth that required an emergency doctor or hospital visit, two of the women said they had. One said s