It was a storytelling kind of day. I have become friends with some of the ladies living in the senior care center with my mother. Kate is a good storyteller, and so I decided to type her childhood tales into a booklet. Today I brought six pages to her when I came to join the ladies at lunch. She was thrilled. She said she wished she had thought to keep a journal while she was growing up, or to have thought to write down her stories years ago because she is forgetting. She thought everyone should keep a journal so they can remember the details of how their lives used to be. Things change, you know.
Kate had lost both parents by age 13, during the Depression years. Surprisingly, no one came to take the kids to an orphanage. The oldest brother quit high school to work to support his young siblings. Kate had the house to take care of and three little brothers, the youngest only seven. She quit school soon after, during eighth grade, after spinal meningitis took away the use of her legs to where she could only pull herself along the floor. Somehow she recovered fully without ever going to the hospital or getting medicine. Kindly neighbors and their pastor kept an eye on the children, but everyone was struggling in those days, so the kids had to make do on their own with minimum help. I will leave her hilarious story of their first Thanksgiving on their own to a November blog post.
Edie cried as she told us her story today, the first time we had heard it. She was born in Germany and barely survived WWII. Her parents were gunned down by Russian soldiers – her mother’s last words to her, “Get down, get down!” Fifteen-year-old Edie was dumped alive into a big trash bin along with her dead parents. Her grandmother pulled her out. Not long after, the Americans were welcomed into town, the soldiers admiring Edie’s long blond hair. She and other orphans were sent to the United States, where she found a home with a relative. She carries treasured memories of her mother wearing a long skirt and waltzing with her in the living room.
Our senior residences and nursing homes are like libraries, each person a book waiting to be read. If we do not bother to open those books, the stories will die. What a shame to lose those historic, fascinating, funny, and sad tales. Imagine if I had not bothered to care, to ask, to listen… “I might have gone on my way empty hearted.”*
*from the Fascination waltz.