Two-stepping and Tupperware parties

Memory Kits help older adults form friendships and recall fond memories...

It's been seven years since Library Associate Amy Bivins began making regular visits to Oasis Assisted Living at Fellowship Square. On a rainy day in Tucson, Amy comes prepared. Armed with a portable Memory Kit and homemade snacks, she sits comfortably among a dozen residents eagerly awaiting to get started.

Memory Kits are just one of the many ways Library staff interacts with customers of all ages. Think of it as a bit like a Storytime, but for older adults.

The kits act as a powerful tool to evoke memories, and for residents to share stories and learn more about one another. They are themed and cover topics like farm and school days, county fairs, and the home front during WWII.

“The Library serves our entire community,” Amy says, “even those who can’t make it to us. It’s similar to school visits, but instead of children we’re serving our older customers. The visits help them to keep their minds engaged and stay connected to one another.”

She reached out to Mary Ann Conway, the Life Enrichment Coordinator at Oasis, who jumped at the opportunity. On this day, Mary Ann is buzzing around the room, handing out napkins and water and helping residents to Amy’s delicious cinnamon coffee cake. She says, “We always look forward to Amy’s visits. She’s the best. Always so respectful.”

Amy digs out the first picture in the Memory Kit. The black and white laminated photo shows a group of teenagers dancing. Amy asks, “Were you big dancers?”

Jeannette jumps right in. “My husband and I used to go all the time. We waltzed, we two-stepped…” She also recalls grade school in Topeka, Kansas. “We had square and round dancing inside during recess in the winter because it was too cold to go outside.”

Another resident recalls taking ballroom dancing. “I was 14 and at my gawkiest. I was a wallflower since I was taller than all the boys.”

Smiling at her husband, Bob, who sits rubbing his wife’s shoulder, Sue says, “We met in 1950 and quickly discovered that we were not dancers. But, put me in a pool and I can do synchronized swimming.”

Next, Amy pulls out a photo of Tupperware and asks, “How many of you bought, sold, or used Tupperware?” A resounding “yes” from the room.

Recalling the Tupperware parties she hosted in her home, Jeannette says, “I loved Tupperware. They kept food fresh and they didn’t spill. The parties were fun and I got free Tupperware.” She smiles and then adds, “Have you seen the colors now? They’re so wild.”

Amy switches topics, turning to cars and road trips. Mildred, Alice, Jeannette, and Diane have lots to share. They recall road trips with multiple kids in a small Studebaker; taking breaks to eat lunch underneath trees on the side of the road; visiting grown children in states scattered across the country. “My husband and I bought a motorhome and took off!” Diane recalls, “I fondly remember that time, especially now that he’s passed.”

The visit begins to wind down, but not before News in the 50s, a giant crossword puzzle, is taped to the wall. Everyone shouts “MOUSE!” at the clue “Mickey ___ Club” and Amy exclaims, “We’re off to a smashing start!”

The clue “Made popular by Davy Crockett” causes a few ladies to erupt into song… “Davy! Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier.”

When the clue “Rock Around the ____” comes up, Mary Ann says, “Does anyone remember who made that popular?” Jeannette says, “Bill Haley and the Rockets.” Laughter breaks out and another woman says, “It’s the Comets!”

No Memory Kit visit would be complete without a closing song. Amy and Mary Ann lead the group in “Happy Trails to You” and “Goodnight, Irene.” When they sing the last line, “I’ll see you in my dreams,” the room takes on a calm and contented air.

One woman sitting quietly in the back of the room has a smile on her face. It looks like she’s remembering something that makes her happy. It’s a heart-warming moment that shows just how powerful the Memory Kits are. Everyone is working together, sharing answers, completing one another’s sentences. It’s loud and boisterous and memories fill the air. Everyone agrees… it’s been another good visit.