Memory kits: bringing good memories to life

This article by Librarian Associate Amy Bivins was originally published in the Arizona Daily Star on Nov. 16, 2014.

In my earliest memory of my Grandma Kate, I’m four or five years old, and she is teaching me the Lord’s Prayer while she sits on the toilet. 

She was Irish Catholic to her core and never missed an opportunity to edify her grandchildren with a prayer, a bible verse, or a mini biography of some saint. I sat on the edge of the bathtub and dutifully repeated after her: “Our Father, who art in heaven…”

Many years later when Grandma Kate was in her eighties, she had a little apartment near our house where she lived alone and rarely left. A priest from the diocese would come to her at least once a month so she could take communion. The church ladies who would one day handle every detail of her funeral checked in often with news and gossip. When our dad was out of town for work, my brothers and I would take turns visiting her twice each day (which Dad did for years) to make her breakfast and supper and make sure she had everything she needed.

I always took Fridays so she and I could eat coffee ice cream together and watch “Family Matters.” I never liked the show, but Grandma Kate loved Steve Urkel. Watching her crack up over that kid was priceless.

My grandma was in her early forties when my dad was born. To me, she always seemed incredibly old. She was also caring, hilarious, delicate, wise, and capable of withstanding horrible tragedy as gracefully as she handled the daily pains of aging. She never failed to tell me how special she considered our time together, and I felt the same way.

I didn’t realize then how fortunate we were to be able to connect with each other so easily. For family members, friends, or caregivers, an age gap of a generation or more can seem an insurmountable obstacle to real communication with loved ones with a chronic condition, disability, and the everyday issues of old age.

The Pima County Public Library has a free resource that can help. They’re called Memory Kits.

Each kit is a collection of objects, music, photographs, and activities created to help seniors recollect the past, hand down stories, build relationships, and just have fun reminiscing with others. Some kits are designed to spark conversations one-on-one. Others can be used with groups. Memory Kits can be checked out at your library just like books, and anyone with a library card can do it. Themes range from music, pets, home, and train rides, to county fairs, school days, fashion, and cars.

Maybe you’re a granddaughter who wants to hear about the garden your grandmother tended as a young woman. Maybe you’re a Baby Boomer who would like to share some good memories of the 1950s with your parents. Perhaps you work or volunteer at a retirement home or an adult community where you can use the kits for all kinds of fun activities and programming.

I brought the Remembering Farm Days kit during a library visit at a retirement home and had more fun than I’d had at work in a long time. We started with a short video, and people were talking before it was even over. Total strangers began laughing about their mothers’ laundry freezing on the line, “going into town” for the Saturday nickel matinee, and unusual uses for corn cobs. We sang, we danced, we drank lemonade.

I saw people in their eighties transported—happily—back to their youth for an hour.
Another group of people shared their memories of World War II when I visited them with the Remembering The Home Front kit. They talked about victory gardens, rationing, and the unity of the country during the war. I shared pictures of my grandfather during his military service and a little diary that he kept that included well wishes from the men in his unit.

More than one person got a little misty-eyed when I played the song, “Don’t Sit Under The Apple Tree With Anyone But Me,” which is on the CD from the kit.

Memory Kits weren’t around for me and Grandma Kate, but they could be the link you need to connect with someone in your life and show them that they and their memories matter.

Amy Bivins is a Library Associate at the Miller-Golf Links Library and loves to read historical fiction. Her favorite part of her job is helping people find books they love and information they need.

Did You Know?
November is National Alzheimer’s Month and National Family Caregivers Month.

Visit the library's website for a list of the Memory Kits that you can check out.