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Sunday, November 25, 2007

Seniors' Life Story Telling - A Chance to Communicate, Share, Understand

Seniors' life story telling gives later generations insight into what it was like ,on a day to day basis, to live through different eras and cultural changes. Understanding the different conditions of daily life that existed during a senior's childhood, 60 or 70 years ago, helps explain things that might be puzzling to someone today. For example, if you wonder why grandmother never throws anything away, it could be a habit from growing up during the Great Depression.

I know someone like this and here is his story. He is in his mid-70's now, and describes living in a tent in the California Central Valley as a child during the 1930's Great Depression. The family had come to California from the Oklahoma dustbowl. His mother had died of pneumonia and his father worked in the fields.

He remembers his father would drag a long bag for the cotton, that looped over his shoulder while he was picking. As a child he played by riding on the cotton bag as his father dragged it along the ground.

For a Christmas tree there was often a dried cotton stalk with cotton balls for decorations. Toys were blocks of wood and imagination was used to turn them into cars or tractors.

When he was about 6 years old he began working in the fields picking cotton too. School attendance was only possible between field work, and after the eighth grade he stopped attending school and helped the family survive by working in the fields full time.

This senior today has several storage buildings full of personal items that he collected throughout his lifetime. He keeps everything, and explained it's a habit from living during the Depression. Survival was hard, everything was reused, and objects were too difficult to obtain to be able to easily discard them.

I used questions and prompts to encourage him to share his story. He said he hadn't thought about it lately, but he would like a copy of the longer version I made of his story to give to his children, who haven't heard it before. Often people talk in generalities about their life history and the details of daily living don't come up.

It was easy to understand my friend's habit of being a "collector" after I heard his story. His adult children were glad to have it as part of the family history.

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