Saturday, June 8, 2013

Are you too old to learn new-fangled things?

Just in case, you are one of the many people who seem to think that learning how to use a computer, or program a VCR is beyond your abilities, I'm here to tell you that you're never too old to learn new things. I have been inspired by a fascinating woman named Olive.

Olive Riley lives in Australia, near Sydney, and she is 108 years young. Just reaching that amazing age is quite an accomplishment, but Olive doesn't just exist... she really lives! She and a friend, Mike, are blogging, or as Olive refers to it, "blobbing," and it's all about Olive. In fact, that's the name of her "blob," All About Olive. (Olive passed away a few years ago, and the site is no longer maintained.  It’s still a great story.)

Mike is doing the typing, and Olive is telling the stories. And believe me, she has some stories to tell. She was born in a mining town, called Broken Hill, which is in central Australia, on October 20, 1899! Mike has found a lot of pictures from years and years ago. He includes the pictures in the "blob" and Olive tells the stories behind them. She is a bit feisty, and very articulate. I love the old pictures, and also, the new ones of Olive today. Her memory and faculties are amazing for an 80 year old, and she's 28 years past that.

Olive reminds me of my mother. Throughout my mother's life, she kept a journal, jotting brief notes each day about things she had heard, seen, read and thought. She usually wrote in spiral-bound stenographer's pads, carrying them with her wherever she went. On family vacations, my father drove, and my mother took notes. Every series of “Burma Shave” roadside signs we passed was written in her notebook, as were all meals eaten, the amount of each restaurant and motel bill, the mileage ratings for every tank of gas on the trip and the cost per gallon of gas. There were notes about beautiful scenery, people who littered, unusual birds and famous landmarks.

I have read entries in some of her travel notebooks about driving through terrible ice storms in Atlanta, Georgia, barbecuing in Cook's Forest, Pennsylvania, paddle-boating on a lake in Kentucky and golfing with my dad in West Virginia. My mother didn't actually golf. My dad golfed, and she was the scorekeeper. According to her accounts, my father was an amazing golfer, and only scored above par due to interference from trees, ponds, geese and other golfers. He could have played professionally, if only those nuisances had stayed out of his way. At least that was the way my mother saw it.

When my parents retired, she added notes about people they visited, and people who visited them. She had a great sense of humor, and reading her notebooks was a favorite pastime of her children and grandchildren. My mother was diabetic, and followed a strict diabetic diet. On rare occasions, she would allow herself to have a small slice of her favorite treat, lemon meringue pie. She would always include a paragraph in her journal about how wonderful that sweet treat tasted.

One of my favorite entries in her journals, concerned the weekly visit of the minister from her church. He knew she loved lemon meringue pie, and he, also, knew that she was diabetic, so he decided that the perfect gift for her was a lemon meringue scented candle. She thanked him for his thoughtful gift, but when we read her journal, we discovered her true feelings. “The pastor stopped by to see me today. We had a very nice visit, and he brought me a lemon meringue candle. Hah! Where's the pie?!!!”

If my mother were alive today, I would help her start a blog. I know she would have loved it. She was always fascinated with the newest gadgets, and really wished that she had a computer so that she could email me every day. There weren't as many options available then, as there are today, and what was available was not quite as user friendly. A blog would have been a way for family and friends to be able to check in each day, and find out what was going on in her life.

I think this is a great idea for any family who has an older relative who loves to tell stories. A teen who enjoys blogging could handle all the technical aspects. It would be a great way to improve writing, photography and computer/Internet skills. It would, also, be a wonderful way to learn history, genealogy, geography, and many other subjects.

During the last 10 years of my mother's life, I spent a lot of time interviewing her, asking her about her life, and about all the things she remembered my dad telling her about his life. I read her journals and took notes on things that were especially interesting. I organized all of this information into my mother and father's life stories. I tried to write the information in a way that was similar to my mother's conversational style. When I was finished, I printed the information in book form, and gave a copy to each of my brothers, my sister and each of my parents' grandchildren.

Nearly every person who received a copy of the book, took the time to send me a note of gratitude. They told me that they had laughed, and cried, and gasped in surprise, as they read, remembering stories they had forgotten, and hearing other stories for the very first time. These stories keep loving memories alive. They bring us strength and perspective. They create a strong bridge from the past to the future, as new generations read stories that bring past generations back to life.

Even if you are not interested in blogging, I hope you will take the time to record stories and memories from your life, and from the lives of your parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and others. They are part of history... your family's history, and the lessons they offer are timeless.

Taking notes,


"We've heard that a million monkeys at a million keyboards could produce the complete works of Shakespeare; now, thanks to the Internet, we know that is not true." ~Robert Wilensky, 1996

"Old wood best to burn, old wine to drink, old friends to trust, and old authors to read." ~Quoted by Francis Bacon, "Apothegm"

"Some people, no matter how old they get, never lose their beauty - they merely move it from their faces into their hearts." ~Martin Buxbaum

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