The pieces published below were written by participants in AGE of Central Texas’s Memory Connections Program, which aims to enhance the mental and physical health and overall quality of life of people affected by early-stage dementia. The Badgerdog writing workshops provided for these groups were made possible by the generous support of St. David’s Community Foundation’s Health’s Angels.
I used to think writing was one of the lonelier activities one could endeavor to undertake. Not so. Even at this moment as I write alone in a small windowless office, I hear the voices of the workshop participants I shared Mondays with at the North Austin YMCA. I am reminded that writing is a means for regaining a sense of connectedness.
One memory in particular sticks out. I’d asked participants to come up with a short list of words of wisdom they’d either given or received at some point in their lives. To be honest, as one who falls (unwilling) under the umbrella of “millennial,” my own list included phrases such as follow your dreams, never give up, and do what you love. I was thrown for a loop when one participant, Eva, shared what were her most valuable words of wisdom:
- Help those in need in any way you can.
- Learn about the challenges of others and find ways to help.
I think my jaw fell open. I realized then that I’d become so entrenched in the daily to-dos of my life, that I was so focused on the “me,” I’d completely forgotten about the “we.”
While not everyone in our workshop was able to use the tools of writing (pens and paper) — the physical act of writing either too painful or too frustrating — everyone was able to enjoy and participate in a communal atmosphere of language, or “creative discussion,” as we called it. Words floating in the air are just as valuable as words pinned to a page. Living in the moment is just as important as recording it. Listening to each other’s stories is just as significant as telling stories of our own. And like water washing over stone, everything that we do changes us a little. I was changed. And I believe storytelling always gives back to the community, the “we” that is so essential to all of us.
Badgerdog Teaching Artist
Out My Window, I Remember
Mother red cardinal, dark red. I saw her bring stray leaves and sticks to make her nest. She’d been found nesting in another nest in my backyard, and her last family stayed nearby. When it came time to nest with a new generation of eggs, she made a new one in a tall shrub near my door. At the time, I was in the hospital after open heart surgery number two. I came by to pick up something to wear besides PJs. They were teaching the babies to fly. I don’t wear perfume, so they didn’t sense me nearby. I covered my mouth with a soft pillow and watched the parents teach the young cardinals to take flight.
On vacation, touring nine states to see state parks and watch the acid spring water blow from its geyser, I was awoken and saw the most beautiful view I have ever seen. The sky was so beautiful, with so many colors, in fact, that I momentarily questioned if the world was coming to an end. And God would be next.
The object that means the world to me and is particular in its value of longevity is the ring I wear on the middle finger of my right hand. It is made out of unpolished silver and depicts a four-footed beast with two long ears, a tail, and four long feet, a rabbit given to me by a former boyfriend, who told me to always keep my eye on the rabbit, a reference to greyhound racing.
My hand-carved oriental desk, which belonged to my mother’s mother, Da, as we grandchildren called her. Mom and I were with her on our first trip to Hawaii in 1949. We visited a distant cousin of hers living in Honolulu. Aboard the plane, Da became ill, was given a blood transfusion — wrong type — so after the hospital stay, we lived in a typical neighborhood. There was a Dutch refugee family with a little girl who had several deformities due to the lack of protein in WWII; a Hawaiian family on the opposite side with several children; and, us, in the middle — a league of nations! Children just played, using simple toys we either shared or created — language was no barrier — children just play!
When I sit at this desk, corresponding with family and friends back in California, I have a space of my own, an area to touch back in time, an area to create in, an area that is all mine.
Helen G. Haynes
My lifelong friend, Kathryn Ruth, a.k.a. Kathy, has been in my life since third grade — this is equivalent to sixty-five years. In forth grade, we said goodbye. Why, you ask? Each family was leaving Ojai, California. How our mothers kept their secret was amazing, for we (young friends) were devastated by our loss. After our new home was ready to move in to, I found out that Kathy was merely four houses down the block from me.
Over the course of these past sixty-plus years, we’ve shared weddings, the births of our children, high school, and college graduations. Then came the children’s weddings — some in Ventura, California, one on the Big Island of Hawaii. And now we celebrate our grandchildren’s birthdays — all seven of them. My eldest, Sean, twenty-three, U.S. army, down to Paige and Andrew, nine; hers Ava, eleven; Elsie, nine; Vianne, eight; and Shepard, six.
Helen G. Haynes
Out My Window, I Remember
Long ago, I lived on a farm in Ireland surrounded by many trees of different kinds, meadows with sheep and rabbits crawling around, an orchard with many kinds of apples, pears, and plums, and an avenue surrounded by moss weeds.
One object that means a lot to me is the photo of my husband. He gave it to me, and I love it a lot. In the photo, he’s twenty-six.
Heather H. de Loyo
My objects are useful… scissors for snipping fabric samples and a tape measure for knowing how much to cut out for sewing.
I don’t sew clothing for myself anymore. My shape has shifted!
But I now sew pig pillows, the first choice of hospital patients, requested by chaplains and Ouch Buddies for children at the Ronald McDonald House — squeezable when getting a shot. And pillows for those same children in bright colors.
Words of Wisdom
Wait. Wait for beauty, for buds blooming out
of season. For secondhand gloves full of memories.
For music by piano and music by flute.
For looms weaving our loves. Beauty
in love, and love in beauty. Love in
music, and music in love.