In 2006, I was working as an administrator in an Assisted Living community while simultaneously working on my Masters degree. I had finished all of my class credits, and in order to complete the degree I had to write a thesis. This seemed a daunting requirement, and I had no ideas for a topic let alone how to even begin. I found myself floundering and wondering if I would ever finish the degree.
Then one day from my office, I overheard a 98 year old talking about what it was like when he was a boy working on their family farm. I was captivated by his stories that day as he recalled things I could have never known since I was 65 years younger than him! As one of humans’ most basic and effective forms of communication, storytelling connects us all, and I certainly made a connection that day.
With little more than the beginning of an idea, I began to research storytelling and oral history in hopes of finding a suitable thesis topic. During this research, I came across the quote that would not only help me complete the thesis, but from that moment on filled me with the passion to preserve the stories of elders everywhere. The quote is attributed to an African Proverb:
“Every time an old person dies, a library burns to the ground.”
For reasons obvious to anyone who works in our industry, this quote resonates deeply. We are surrounded by elders every day, all with wonderful stories and recollections of their past that they so willingly share. I began to think that if we somehow saved those stories, we could save their library!
My dreaded thesis ended up being one of the most fulfilling experiences of my life. I spent hours interviewing and recording one special elder: my grandmother, Irene Hosteter, who raised seven children on little more than faith. Together, we saved her library for those 7 children, who have grown to also include 15 grandchildren, 33 great grandchildren, and 2 great-great grandchildren!
Yes, the thesis project was big, but what I learned along the way is that preserving the wisdom and stories (their legacy!) of our elders is easy!
- All it takes is a recording device (found on most smart phones these days)
- a willing storyteller
- an engaged listener
- and a little bit of time.
That’s when the magic of the story takes over, connecting the storyteller and listener, allowing both to find aspects of themselves in each other while preserving the storyteller’s legacy forever.
Grammie died a few years ago at the age of 95, but her legacy remains with us. We can still listen to her stories, in her voice, anytime. As the holiday season approaches and families gather, consider sitting down with one of your cherished family members, start the recorder, and ask them to “tell me about that time when….”
You will have created a priceless keepsake.
Below is one of Grammie’s stories. She would be honored if you decide to create one of your own! Help us save the libraries and preserve the legacy of all elders!
About our guest Author: Carrie Gallahan, Director of Operations – Midwest Region, Compass Senior Living
Carrie lives in Peru Indiana. She is the founder of Saving Libraries, and she has partnered with Compass Senior Living to create a signature program entitled Tiny Stories, which is a legacy collection of elder stories in print, recorded and video formats. Stories have power. They delight, enchant, touch, teach, recall, inspire, motivate, and challenge. They imprint a picture on our minds. Not only do people love to tell stories, people love to hear stories!