Seems anyone my age or older should remember road trips.
Road Trip seemed like a pretty good theme, since my husband and I had just returned from a week exploring Route 66 in Oklahoma. I had plenty of maps and stories and goofy games to share.
But not everyone has car memories.
I thought about that before I met with my Seniors at the Community Center. Many in the group grew up in Mexico and Central America, where their families didn't own cars. A few admitted they didn't know how to read maps. But we still had fun.
Maps and Cameras
We "over-used" highlighters on maps and turned them into art. Then we each imagined a place we'd like to visit on a road trip. We passed the tiny tourist camera and took turns describing the picture we would take when we got there. Ramona wished she could go to Hawaii. She claimed she'd never been and couldn't describe it. But then she smiled and and began imagining palm trees, and sand... and hula girls! Aurora, who noticed a picture of the Arch on a St. Louis map, was delighted to recall a trip she took to St. Louis, once. She was so excited to describe her trip up in the arch that she forgot I didn't speak Spanish. We both laughed and pantomimed looking down at St. Louis through the tiny Arch windows.
On to Silverado
Many in my sweet group at Silverado were full of traveling stories. Ernest grew up in Switzerland, so he didn't know about Route 66. But when I played Nat King Cole singing Get Your Kicks on Route 66, he clapped in time and pointed out all the instruments he heard.
Traveling with Kids
Some recalled traveling as adults with their own children, back before air conditioning and seatbelts, when the only entertainment was am radio and the license plate game. We created a list of kid car quotes. Are we there yet? I'm hungry? I need to go to the bathroom...now! Stop leaning on me! Betty mentioned the positive side to traveling with children. "They help us see and experience the world through their eyes!" What a treat to witness a child seeing a mountain or the ocean for the first time...or even a motel swimming pool!
We had fun remembering the old motor courts and motel chains of the past...with tiny wrapped soaps and stationary in the drawer.
Remembering Childhood Travel
It was harder for our group to remember childhood travels, but we did go off on some wonderful tangents about parents and siblings. I wish my mother had been able to tell the story of her trip from St. Louis to California on Route 66 in 1934. She used to tell us how she caused quite a scene when she told the inspector at the state line that they had fruit in the car. My favorite story was when she spotted Shirley Temple while shopping in a shoe store in Hollywood!
"Blowing Down This Old Dusty Road..."
With my recent road trip fresh in mind, I quizzed the group about a man born in Oklahoma who experienced the hardship of the Dust Bowl. He hitchhiked west on Route 66 with his guitar and harmonica and wrote songs about what he saw and experienced. His 100th birthday was last week. I played a crackly version of one of his road inspired songs and the group smiled and swayed and sang some of the repeated chorus. "Does anyone know his name?" I asked. No one could remember.
"Woody Guthrie," I said.
My mother's eyes lit up and she let out a light gasp. Her eyes seemed so clear. Her expression seemed like Mom, more than 20 years ago. Did she really for a moment visualize an old album cover leaning up against our hi-fi? Probably nothing so concrete. Even when I tell family stories, my mother no longer remembers with me. Her expressions d0 sometimes reveal a connection, though. And when I said the name Woody Guthrie, my mother's eyes seemed to warm as if she'd just been lifted to a wonderful place. I so wish she could have shared what that thought or picture was!
Our themes each week are meant to trigger memories. But sometimes a song or a prop or just a word can trigger a positive moment or feeling rather than a memory. That is just as important!
First Stop with the Quilt
I lugged the quilt and train stuff to the Community Center. As the Seniors gathered around the table looking at the books and photos, old memories surfaced. Everyone had a train memory.
Memories aren't always from riding trains.
I was surprised so few in the group had actually ridden a train. One woman from Guatemala described riding a train through the countryside as a child. Another woman from Eagle Lake remembered taking the train into Houston as a child to see the circus. But the rest had train stories they'd heard from others or they'd seen in movies. I so wished I could gather the group and take them on a train ride. The closest we got was imagining where each of us would go on a train trip. Then we sang the old song, Train is a Comin' Oh Yeah... We changed the words to include all the places we would visit on our train ride. By the end of the song our group was swaying as if we were riding a train and clapping as if we were at an old church revival. Lots of "WooWoos!" thrown out instead of "Amens!" That was an unexpected train tangent!
Down the Tracks to Silverado
I left the Center and headed down Highway 90 along the railroad tracks to Silverado. I didn't get stopped by a train this day.
I spread out the same things and heard such different responses.
More train stories.
Vivian grew up in a house beside the tracks. She recalled hearing the whistle when she was in bed at night. Then the house would begin to shake as the train rumbled by. In the daytime, the kids would wave as the train passed the house.
Rita used to walk across a train bridge to get to school. She claimed they could see far enough down the tracks to cross safely. She never stole coal from the train, but some of the boys did, when the train slowed down near the bridge.
Trains and Kids
We wondered about what made trains so fascinating to children. We thought about toy trains around Christmas trees and zoo trains and circus trains. Pearl thought the little Polar Express train was "cute!" Woody liked the rail spike. Some of us remembered walking down tracks as children, hunting for old spikes.
Listening was the most fun.
I told the group about my Uncle Morris who had a great reel to reel recording of a train. When we were children we would lie on his Navajo rug, below a set of impressive speakers. We'd close our eyes and imagine the train far in the distance...a faint whistle, growing louder...then the rumbling and clickity clacking as the sound grew with intensity! We would grin with our eyes squeezed shut, feeling the vibration from the speaker, as if an actual train was zooming beside us.
I played a similar recording to the Silverado group. Not all closed their eyes, but all grinned and even tooted along! Woody who adores music, used his hands on the table to accompany the increasing rhythm of the train pounding the rails. By the end all were clapping and cheering.
The Whistle! I kept my wooden train whistle hidden for the perfect moment. I blew a double toot, lingering on the last note. My mother's expression was a mixture of surprise and delight...as if she had just captured a delicious memory. I wasn't quite able to conjure up the first reaction when I grabbed the camera and tooted again, but her smile tells me what I already know. My mother has always loved trains!
Last Stop for the Quilt
The very next day, the Quilt headed back down Hwy 90 to the Women's Shelter. Most of the children were preschool age today, so we got to do the fun train stuff. We "played train" and had plenty of adventures, shooing cows off the tracks and repairing broken rails with imaginary hammers. But the sweetest moment was when I brought out the train cards that the folks at the Community Center had decorated for them. They clung to their train cards until dinner!
What I Learned: For the old, trains conjure up a big hunk of nostalgia. For the young trains are a thing of fantasy. For me...I could think about trains all day!
What to bring for a July 4th theme?
Last year, this old Uncle Sam doll was a hit with the folks at Silverado. I told the residents how the doll had belonged to my grandmother, who just happened to have been born on the fourth of July. My mom kept the doll in her home after her mother passed away. I was eager to see if my mom recognized Uncle Sam when I pulled him from the box. Alzheimer's prevented Mom from remembering how she displayed him carefully on a shelf with other antique toys or how she had always wanted to take him on Antiques Road Show to find out what he was worth. She couldn't remember those details, but there was such a look of delight on her face when she saw him. I know she at least felt the warmth of the memory. That funny old doll can still make her smile.
Too big of a hit!
So maybe Sam was too big of a hit last year. Everyone loved him, but I was worried my luck would run out and something would happen to him. I brought a photo of him this year.
Men and Flags!
Even though we don't make quilts, I have a hard time getting men to come to my group. It's my own fault for calling it the Quilt Group. But I was able to convince Jerry and Woody to come when I told them we were talking about flags! Jerry was intrigued with a book showing old flag designs. Woody listened to some recorded Sousa marches and kept perfect rhythm with his flag. If we'd only had more room, Woody is an incredible dancer...and I'm sure marcher.
It's hard to sit still when Sousa is playing. Dwayne used a flag like a conductor, emphasizing every beat.
Our Swiss Musician
I expected Ernest to enjoy the music. He's a musician from Switzerland, where he played clarinet in an orchestra. What I didn't realize was how beautifully Ernest can whistle! When Stars and Stripes reached that playful point where the piccolo takes the spotlight, Ernest puckered up and surprised us all with a tricky whistling accompaniment!
We got down to business with Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture. While the timpani rumbled like thunder and bells began to clang, we clapped or waved flags. My mom can no longer participate in some of the quizzes and projects, but she recognized every piece of music and joined in, singing every note!
As the Overture reached its crazy finale with crashing cymbals and exploding fireworks, we joined in with sparkler sticks and palms slapping like cymbals.
We knew it was silly, but who can resist?
Finished with Flags
We turned the music softer and got out paper and glue sticks. Everyone had a chance to design their own flag using stars and stripes.
A few shared memories of flags. Vivian remembered how she flew one on her porch. Jerry recalled all the rules for flags. We talked about kids waving flags and I told a story about my mom asking a small Florida post office to please lower the flag when Martin Luther King died.
What I learned: Whether you use paper stars and stripes or a piece of music titled Stars and Stripes, there's just something festive about celebrating on the 4th. Our patriotic veteran had as much fun as our passionate musician. Celebrating keeps us young!
For 20+ years children have called it the Magic Quilt. They've danced and pretended all over these colorful squares. I've dragged it to schools, shelters and studios where children have climbed on top to hear Magic Quilt Stories and to act them out.