By Jeannie Davis
WE SENIORS RECENTLY HOSTED A CATERED LUNCHEON honoring our members who were 80-years-old and over. It was a lovely affair, with cloth tablecloths, porcelain dinnerware, and real silverware. The room was decorated beautifully and everyone was happy. Our mayor, Dave Coulter, graciously spoke and brought gifts for each attendee. He had done his homework, and spoke about the things happening in the world in 1937, when our honorees were born. He spoke about how these happenings had brought hardships to people, and how in many instances, their characters had been forged by living in those times.
This got me to thinking about what myself and others in our ‘70s and ‘80s had indeed seen firsthand, and not through the condensed, sanitized nightly news. I am positive that while the Mayor was speaking, almost everyone in that room had fastened on a memory, and for a moment was reliving an incident, or fact of life from those previous times. Perhaps it was their mother saving bacon grease for frying, or tin cans for the war effort. Maybe, it was walking down their street, and seeing little banners with stars hanging in their neighbor’s windows.
Maybe they were reliving that glorious day when it was official and the war was over! I know, I was remembering my twin teenage aunts excitedly dressing to go downtown to join in the celebration. Grandma had given her permission and bless-ing. As a 5-year-old, I could only watch wide-eyed as they primped, combed, fluffed their hair, and drew eyebrow pencil lines down the backs of their legs to simulate nylon stockings. Grandma let me stay up, and we shared a glass of coca cola (I suspect that hers had more than coke), and we sat on either side of her old cabinet radio and listened to the reports of joyous merrymaking going on throughout Detroit. The air fairly crackled with excitement!
As I listened to the mayor, I reflected on the amount of memories and stories which were in that room. Each person had their own library of stories and pictures tucked away waiting to be drawn out from time to time, and each time invoking a fresh emotion. Much like my chuckle, remembering my aunts preparing to go out and participate in history. The number of stories our seniors hold must be staggering. They seldom speak of them, because, the occasion rarely calls for a trip down memory lane, and yet they are there, waiting to be told, waiting to allow the teller to relive that moment in time, hoping to impress the listener that they too had had interesting lives.
I know these are truly unusual times, with extraordinary things happening daily, and yet, look back: A world war, an atom bomb dropped not once, but twice, a president assassinated, and another impeached. This was pretty heady stuff.
I guess my message here is to you younger folks. Ask seniors about the wars they lived through, ask about President Kennedy, ask what daily life was like in the ‘40s and ‘50s. From the somber and serious, to the totally frivolous. From war to hula hoops. (By the way, for a while, I demonstrated hula hoops in the front window of Kresges at Eastland Mall!) You will be enchanted, and your senior will, for a time, feel relevant. I know, I have encouraged these stories from time to time during one-on-one conversations with some of my people. Believe me, it was eye-opening.
I remember Greg Pawlica and myself, listening avidly as our friend Elsie recounted her experience on a bus during the 1943 race riots. She was terrified as an angry mob stopped the bus she was on, and rocked it back and forth. Wow! Elsie is dead now, but her story is still go-ing. I have told several people, as I am sure Greg has. This could be how we keep those times and those people alive.
Listen, and retell.
Jeannie Davis 248-541-5888