In the last few years I have noticed my grandmother's memory becoming a bit more precarious. Things that happened many years ago were very clear while what happened a few days ago was not. When I have mentioned these issues to my mother, she didn't notice them as much because she sees my grandma on a more regular basis. However, in the last 12-18 months, it has become more of a concern. Her father suffered from "senility" which we would now term to be some form of dementia, so we knew the likelihood of her suffering from memory loss was pretty great.
As a result of these circumstances, my mom, sister and I have tried to get more stories recorded, more old pictures looked over, and more things written down. Over Memorial Day weekend, we sat with a big pile of photos, some more labeled and some not. We worked to identify some of the people in the photos and I took notes. They were also preparing to leave for their June trip to South Dakota so I went to the Clark County Genweb site and printed the cemetery transcription where I knew a vast majority of our relatives were laid to rest. My mom helped my grandma and her brother as they discussed the names of the burials. Mom took notes of who the people were, how they were related or if they were just a family acquaintance. I now need to update my database.
For a long time I have been contemplating how to document my mother's childhood. She was like an "army brat" in that she attended 13 different schools from Kindergarten to her Senior year of high school. However, my grandfather wasn't in the Service during those years. He worked in construction, specifically welding which was a trade he learned during his years in the Army stationed at Warton Air Base in England. As a result, his life work included working at the Naval Base in Bremerton, Washington, he spent several summers in the 1950s working in Alaska, and later with a company named Chicago Bridge & Iron where he became a job foreman.
My solution to document the schools my mother attended as well as the myriad of places my grandparents lived and worked was to come up with a spreadsheet. I broke it down into each year from the time my grandparents married until the early 1980s as I know where they were after that period. I was primarily trying to get her to write down where they lived from roughly 1946 until my early childhood when they were more stationary. I listed each year on the left side providing two or three lines of space for her to write. Across the top I put columns for the city and state they were living, the job he was working on, and any significant memory from that location.
A recent memory came just a few weeks ago after the devastating gas explosion and fire in San Bruno, California. About 1967 or 1968, my grandfather was building a tank for Pacific Gas & Electric just a few miles to the north of where the recent explosion occurred. She described the job site, how their trailer was parked on the site, what they did on the weekends, etc.
I also prepared a spreadsheet for my mother listing years along the side and columns across the top. Because she remembers where she attended school each year and can sometimes even remember the month they moved from one place to another, I wanted them to work together. I knew that my mom could prompt grandma's memory. I also wanted my mom to list her teacher and a significant memory from each of those places. She still speaks fondly of the woman who read "Little House in the Big Woods" to the class. She made sure my sister and I read those stories as children and now I am beginning to read them to my oldest daughter.
It has been probably three weeks since I gave those pages to my mom and grandma. We haven't really talked much about them and I hadn't asked about their progress. Last night my mother called me as she was on the way to taking my grandmother to the emergency room. My mother suspected she had a mini-stroke. My mother's suspicions were confirmed as the doctor diagnosed a TIA and gave them instructions on follow-up appointments for today. As I write this, I am waiting for another update.
If there is a moral to this story it is this: do not wait. Do not wait to document stories. Do not wait to label photographs with the only person who knows who is in the pictures. And above all else, do not wait to visit the doctor. Go now to get your blood pressure and cholesterol checked and whatever other pertinent screenings you need. Your family will thank you.
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