Preserve the Past by Telling Your Story

Words Are Worth a Thousand Pictures: A Generational Challenge

If you are like most of ARTA’s demographic, you still have photo albums full of memories of your life, and perhaps that of your parents and grandparents. What we also know is that for every picture, there is a story behind it. Like listening to the music we grew up with, the foods we ate, and partaking in family traditions, we can visualize that exact moment in time, including the emotions we felt. You may still possess a diary you kept while growing up, which can reveal your influences and thoughts as you wrote.

In a world that is increasingly online through social media, more and more of our memories seem temporary, easy to erase “The cloud” holds thousands of digital photos of daily life — they are today’s ‘record’ of the more recent past, but because of the medium, you may have stopped talking about your childhood and adult life with your own children and family. After all, if it isn’t online, then who today would see or hear it?

My wife Linda presenting flowers to Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip in 1959 with her grandfather and Mayor of Toronto, Nathan Phillips. Wouldn’t you like to know the backstory?

Do you still have an 8mm film or slide projector? Or the cassettes, 8 tracks, CDs, and DVDs that are becoming increasingly difficult to play? Have you moved them over to ‘the cloud’ – password required? You get the idea.

The bottom line is that because of advancing technology that renders older media obsolete (or difficult to obtain), more and more of this history (our history!) may be lost to younger generations. Yes, artificial intelligence may help in accessing what has already been recorded, but there will be limitations on both accuracy and the lack of people to verify and validate what has been recorded.

My mother (second from the right in the front row) at her high school dance in 1927! The man beside her on the right had a crush on her (not my father) which she told me a few years before she passed away. Without her providing the backstory, this would be just another photo on the wall - albeit an interesting one.

A sample segment of my own childhood as an illustration of the value of our own history, to bring to life to those we share it with to understand our world and perhaps improve their own:
Cottage Life at Grandma & Grampa’s
And 50’s & 60’s Memories

I still remember jumping in our car in the late 50s and early 60s to head to the cottage on Lake Simcoe, north of Toronto. We all piled in without seatbelts, there were no airbags, and only a small visor windows for air. All metal and vinyl, that car was hot as blazes on our bare legs. First stop: Barclay Square. It was a log cabin family restaurant near Barrie, Ontario that had the best chilli burgers in the world — homemade in gigantic buns with pickles, relish, mustard, ketchup, and special chilli sauce that would dribble down my chin onto my bare chest (mom always said it was easier to clean than our t-shirts).

We laughed our way to the cottage as my dad would drive up the steep two-lane roads where at the top we would ‘tip over’ to the other side, making our tummies flip. My dad called them “whoopsy-daisies.”

Before going to our own cottage, we headed to my grandma and grandpa’s place on the lake, as seen in the photo above. Before the car would roll to a stop, my brother and I would hop out and run barefoot over the gravel driveway (Lego-walking training) to hug our grandparents who were always at the door waiting for us. As a kid, I just thought they must always be there waiting for our visit.

The collage above shows a phone similar to the one they had on the wall. My favourite thing was to call the operator, Hazel, who knew us and tell her we were back. My childhood mind was always amazed at how she lived in that little brown telephone box. She always had a smile and story to tell — you can tell a person’s smile from their voice, right?

Grandma and grandpa always had the best snacks for us to munch on before we went down to the dock to look for fish, while our parents headed over to the cottage to unload before coming back to retrieve us. If it was a hot day, we would have a hose fight to get the dust and mud off our feet (shoes would be off until we headed back to the city) then dried ourselves off on the porch reading comics until they returned.

There might be stops at the general store for broom sticks (a chocolate marshmallow bar on a popsicle stick) or root beer popsicles (the best). If we skinned our knees or ankles playing tag, we paid the ultimate price: dabs of mercurochrome (see the collage above) that was a red badge of honour and burned like hell. But as my dad always said, it would kill off the bacteria that was out to get us. I’m convinced mercurochrome would be far harsher punishment for the bad guys my parents watched on Perry Mason than going to jail.

What was growing up like before smartphones? TV was very limited in the country and when it was available, it was black and white with rabbit ears for reception. We entertained ourselves by being with family and talking to each other. The outdoors was our playground, nature our stimulus, the lake our air-conditioner, the sky our screen, and our imagination our playbook.

Life was simpler then. Not necessarily better, but certainly it was a good time to be a kid. Sure, problems were out there: political assassinations, war, discrimination, etc. It wasn’t perfect, but it was my life then. Simpler, with fewer rules, and it shaped who I became as an adult. I feel it is important that my backstory is told to my family, so it is not lost and brings life to my albums of photos. Did I mention Woodstock?

This was my story… What is yours?

My Challenge to You

As you wind your way through your retirement years, I suggest (while you can) to think back over your life from the beginning. Begin, in detail, to paint a word picture of that period, location, season, homelife, places you went, music you listened to, foods you ate, friends you had — the minutiae of life, as you lived it, and share it with those closest to you.

It might be a terrific and enlightening way of bonding with your children and grandchildren, and current friends young or old, to share the past with understanding. Perhaps they can creatively record it for you. Those photo albums can come to life, and the stories preserved by those who will come after. It is up to you (or those who can help) to choose the medium. The only limitations are your own memory, time, and effort.

As we get older in years, reflecting is an opportunity to create a portrait of our experience that can be shared and guide future generations. It creates context for our own life and family. Our words create a thousand pictures of our lives.
It is our obligation to share that experience while we can.

Ron Jeffery
Wellness Committee Member