Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Triggering Memories

Recording memories for Boo and some for my Mother has become a weekly activity. I found that if I push Boo too much to remember, he seems to close down and remember nothing. On the other hand, if we work on memories once a week and vary the “memory triggers,” then we have a lot more success. Here are ten simple ways I've found that seem to work well.

Old Photos

This is an easy one. Unless vision is an issue, looking at old family photos is a good prompt for reluctant memories. Mention things you notice in the photo that may not immediately trigger a reaction from your elder. The roses growing on the fence...what's the story behind those? Maybe Grandpa planted them for Grandma as a token of his affection or a neighbor gave Grandma cuttings from their rose bush that Grandma nurtured until they took off.


My grandmothers and Boo's mother seldom seemed to rely on recipes. I wish they had. Nothing seems to taste as good as what I remember eating at their tables. Boo can describe dishes his mother and aunts made. Sometimes, that's enough for me to attempt the recipe. Usually, I search cookbooks and online recipe sites for similar recipes and then try to replicate one of Boo's “food memories.”

Family Treasures

This one is easy also. Who crocheted that table runner or the edgings on the pillow cases? Who made the table? Even if specific memories of that particular item are not forthcoming, general memories of Dad making furniture or Grandma's quilting bees may be unearthed. Looking at a handmade bedstead in an antique shop triggered a memory of his mother and aunts gathering moss to make mattresses when he was growing up.

Vintage Advertisements

On one of Boo's better vision days, we looked at old advertisements online. While he didn't seem to remember any of the advertisements we saw, they did bring back lots of memories. He described old cars his father had owned, trips they had taken when he was growing up and memories of one of his uncles working on cars at family gatherings. Boo remembered the cost of doughnuts at a local school, candy bars and peanut butter from various times.

Here's a link to one site for vintage advertisements.

Historical Events

What can your elder remember about WWI or II or the Korean War? Even if they didn't actually serve in the military, they may have memories of victory gardens, of rationing, of the return of family members or neighbors from the war or of their mothers or aunts working in war time factories. 


Old Songs

This has been a good one for Boo. Sing a longs were much more prevalent in years past than they are now. Older songs seem to trigger a lot of memories for Boo. He remembers singing while picking cotton when growing up. (He HATED picking cotton and gladly found other ways to earn money as soon as he was able!) I've found to be You Tube a great source for these old songs.

Walk through the old neighborhood

I've done this with my mother. Well, walk is probably overstating what we actually did. We slowly ambled. We strolled and we stopped frequently for Mother to reminisce. I learned who used to live in the house on the corner and all about them. I learned why my family called short cafe curtains Carrie Bell curtains. On that walk, I probably learned more about that street than I'd ever known.

Reading vintage children's books

This one I discovered by complete accident. Looking through some old books online, Boo asked me to read one to him. I told him he wouldn't be interested, that it was a children's story. Because he really wanted to hear it, I read it and showed him the old illustrations. Boo hadn't heard that book, but he told of others he did remember. I'm still looking for a copy of the early reader he had in school that featured a monkey. I learned to read with Sally, Dick and Jane. He had a monkey!

Visiting “Old Time” Festival Days

We haven't tried this because crowds and noise are such an issue for Boo. Watching threshing machines or old tractors could easily trigger memories. Seeing old machines, crafts and so forth should be a good memory inducer. Perhaps museums would be another possibility.

Family Reunions or visits with siblings, cousins, etc.

Seeing and talking to siblings and other relatives is bound to trigger do-you-remember-when moments. Or family arguments if your family is the argumentative type. Usually after talking to his sisters on the phone, Boo relates family stories. Mother just seems to come alive at family reunions. She's a veritable fount of family memories there.

Now that you've triggered memories.  Record them!

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