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Written memories

Retired teacher encourages senior citizens to record their stories

There is a place in Hardin County where memories of a lifetime find rest in words on the written page.

“I tell them not to worry about spelling and punctuation, just to get their stories in writing,” says Jo Bailey, a retired Elizabethtown High School English teacher, who now encourages writing among residents of RobinBrooke Senior Living in Elizabethtown.

After retirement, Bailey was invited to do a poetry reading for women at the senior living community, and soon she was urging them to write their own poems and stories.

One of their topics was to write about their last boyfriend. Another project they called “Our Lives in Fives,” beginning with recollections of their first five years of childhood and continuing, in five-year increments, to the present.

Barbara Mills mused about looking forward to hand-me-down clothes from her older half-sister, Donna, when they were children during the 1940s. She later wrote poignantly about how she was tempted to skip writing about the painful years when she and her late husband, Charles, a pharmacist, learned that their young daughter, Susan, had an inoperable brain tumor, which took her life at age 13.

Former middle school art teacher Mary Carolyn “Micki” Howell, who was born in 1927, remembered her first stick of Dentyne chewing gum, and that she was almost 5 before she tasted ice cream. She wrote about the Great Depression and her mother, a registered nurse, working for 25 cents an hour on the second shift at a General Motors plant in Anderson, Indiana.

Through their pens and computer keyboards flow testaments of their faith, their happiest and saddest moments, their love for their children and grandchildren, and indelible snippets of everyday life in decades past.

“In the fall of 2015, I rode with Charles in the combine out at the Bush Farm,” wrote Ernestine Nall. “The moon was shining, and the colors of the corn outshone the moon. It was so bright and beautiful. I was just the ‘farm mother,’ and it was very enjoyable just to be riding with my son.”

Occasionally, Bailey, a consumer-member of Nolin RECC, shares her own writings with the group. Her following poem, Love at 56, seems appropriate for Valentine’s Day this month:    

A-h-h love, what is it?

Please define it for me if you can. If you dare.

Tell me it is long-lasting and comfortable and secure.

Tell me it is what I have.

Don’t let me think it is just young, moist kisses, 

A quickening of breath, a skipping of a heartbeat

For a moment when the loved one is first seen.

Tell me love is holding a newborn. Love is sometimes

Standing in a cemetery…together. Tell me

Love is forever. Oh, do not tell me that love was only 

That brief frenzy of hands and faces seeking to possess.

For God’s sake, don’t tell me that was love.

Not now. Not now.

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