This article, by Amy Bivins, was originally published in the Arizona Daily Star on January, 17, 2021.
When I was a kid, chickenpox was a rite of passage. Families with multiple kids would try to deliberately infect all of them at once to get it over with. As soon as one child got it, all the siblings would be quarantined in the same room with a supply of cotton balls and calamine lotion, and if they were really lucky, a TV set. I grew up with two brothers but I didn’t have to quarantine with them; I forget how I lucked out so monumentally. Instead, I had one of the best weeks ever hanging out with my Grandpa Arlo, just the two of us all day. I remember McDonald’s nuggets and milkshakes, The Price is Right (with Bob Barker), and glorious naps while my Grandpa built clocks and drank Hamm’s beer on the back porch.
When I am very old, if anyone asks me what my fondest memories are, my week of chicken pox with Grandpa will be near the top of the list. I certainly hope somebody will ask, too! I’d tell them how the smell of varnish transports me to his back porch workshop, and how he looked as spiffy in Wranglers and a white t-shirt as most men look in a suit. There is nothing I wouldn’t give for a chance to ask Grandpa Arlo if he had as much fun during chickenpox week as I did. I’d love to know all of his fondest memories, actually.
You may be thinking right now about an older person who is important to you. Would you like to know what memories stand out in their mind? Are you wondering how to even begin that conversation? Would it do your elder any good to talk about their earlier life? How do you ask an older adult to share their memories with you? The library has a free resource that can help. They’re called Memory Kits, opens a new window.
Each kit focuses on a time or topic in the past and comes with resources including a DVD, photographs, music, artifacts, and activities. When you share a Memory Kit with an older adult, you open the door for them to relive their most pleasurable memories and talk about those memories with an active listener. The act of reminiscing feels good, especially when shared with others, and it can help improve an older person’s sense of wellbeing. Memory Kits make it easy to invite an elder into your life to reminisce with you, and let them know that their unique experience is important to remember.
If Grandpa Arlo were still here, I would bring him Remembering Farm Days, a kit about (you guessed it) growing up on a farm. He could identify all the seeds inside, I’m sure of it. We would watch the DVD together and I would ask what was familiar to him and what was different about his family’s home and way of life when he was a boy.
The benefits of Memory Kits go on even after you return them. Once the sharing has begun, it’s easy to keep the conversation going with items of your own choosing. I’m lucky enough to have many photographs and mementos that my Mom, Arlo’s daughter, handed down to me. If I could, I would ask him to tell me all about them.
Maybe your Grandpa is still here, just waiting for the invitation to share his life story with you. Maybe you work or volunteer in an adult community or assisted living facility, and you’re looking for a new way to connect with the people you serve. Perhaps you are the elder wanting to talk about your memories and just need a place to begin. Shared reminiscing is feel-good fun for everyone who takes part in it.
Why not check out a Memory Kit today, opens a new window and see for yourself?
Amy Bivins has worked for Pima County Public Library since 1997. She is currently a Library Associate at Miller-Golf Links Library. In addition to watching The Price is Right with Grandpa Arlo, she fondly remembers watching Family Matters with her Grandma Kate.