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Oral History for Senior Citizens

Life Story Writing for Seniors

Continued from page 2

Sometimes fragile bones or faltering senses make physical writing difficult or impossible. Family members or support persons can assist by scribing "spoken poems." To maintain authentic voice, preserve language exactly as it is heard, including phonetic spellings and idiosyncratic grammar:

I played by myself a lot.
Up in the orchard, playing with the frogs and the birds.
One time I got too close to a scissor-tail bird's nest in the orchard
and it swept down and touched my hair on top.
Maybe you think I didn't scram from the orchard
hollering "Mama! Mama!"
Once I caught a big frog and a little frog
and I tied the little frog to its mother's back
so it wouldn't have to walk.
I learned to whistle up in the orchard.

Family members can also be encouraged to contribute their own memories for additional perspective. Goggie's daughter writes:

She made all our clothes. We can't remember ever having seen a store-bought pattern in the house, but we do remember fidgeting imptiently while she begged us to stand still long enough for her to take our measurements. Then she would lay newspaper out on the table and cut out the patterns for our puffed sleeve, full-skirted dresses.

The compiling of the stories, often done by a grandchild or great-grandchild who can self-publish the family's limited edition from his or her computer, is its own process and deserves its own article. Goggie's granddaughter spoke her eulogy, compiled of stories chronicled over the years, and continues the story for another generation:

I did not fully see the beauty in my grandmother's life until I delivered her eulogy. I did not see the enormous tapestry of creative threads. All manner of craft. Nothing left out -- sewing, fabric art, macrame, pillow tufting, embroidery, rug hooking, crocheting, knitting, jewelry-making, singing, recording, painting, sculpting, woodworking, rock polishing, gardening, dancing. She did it all, with the possible exception of writing, and she did that at the end. This original voice, this pioneer woman educated for nine years in a one-room schoolhouse lived a brilliantly creative life. What an honor it is to be her grandchild.

Writing Your Life Story: Six Suggestions for Seniors

  1. Write in small sketches of 5-10 minutes on specific topics, such as a favorite holiday, the first job, a memorable world event.
  2. Engage family members in the process. Invite correspondence, or ask nearby relatives to scribe "spoken poems" by writing down everything that is said, in your exact words.
  3. Join a life story or memoir writing group. Ask at your senior center, library, or doctor's office. If a writing group doesn't exist, see if you can get one started.
  4. Tell the stories of how you participated in world history. Where were you when you heard about the bombing of Pearl Harbor? How did you and your family spend the Great Depression years? Where were you when President Kennedy was assassinated?
  5. Write your "ethical will." What life learnings, personal philosophies, mottos, and core values do you want to leave as legacy to your descendants? How did you learn these lessons or acquire these philosophies?
  6. Ask someone in your family with computer skills to compile your stories into a self-published memoir. Scan in family photos and memorabilia for illustration.

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