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Sharing memories can benefit speaker and receiver

Once upon a time, older adults who spent hours reminiscing were told to "stop living in the past."

Today, reminiscing by the aging population is no longer considered a negative sign of old age. Seniors are encouraged by health care professionals and social workers to remember and review decades of life experiences.

Personally, I'm an addict for such history. Whenever an elderly person wants to look back and talk about his or her life, I'm all ears.

Recently I was asked to edit the memoirs of a gentleman approaching 80. He did not want a rewrite, just correction of grammar, spelling and punctuation.

What a treat for me to read spellbinding tales of his travels around the globe and the folks he met en route.

The man intended that his life story would become a lasting legacy for his offspring, and I'm sure his children and grandchildren will have fun learning about the past through his unusual experiences. I, for one, was honored to take the journey.

Before one of my elderly neighbors died, I tape recorded his numerous vivid memories of living more than 80 years in my immediate downtown Allentown neighborhood.

He remembered raising chickens in coops at the back of his small yard, and he insisted a barn with horses stood in the alley where my garage is today.

For me, the recording is educational, and because it is spiced with personal details of his life, it's so much more interesting than reading such history in a book.

My favorite professor in college spent years writing her memoirs. In fact, when she died in her 80s, her manuscript wasn't complete.

But what a read!

I learned about life on a Minnesota farm in the 1920s, about seeing siblings being born at home, about attending and later teaching in one-room schoolhouses.

Through her neatly-typed, descriptive pages, I tagged along when she joined the Army during World War II.

I cherish that book of memories and am grateful her family gifted me with a copy. Although this special lady is gone, she lives on for me through her words on the well-worn pages.

How often do we hear people express regret because they failed to ask questions of their ancestors before it was too late to do so.

Being the curious type my entire life, I asked lots of questions. But I wish I had recorded or written down conversations with my grandparents and great-aunts, because some of the fine details have become fuzzy in my brain.

My mother recently lamented not asking more questions of her mother. Unfortunately, often we don't even think of the right questions until the person has died.

Recalling casual stories my mother has told us kids over the years, I prompted her to jot down such memories of her childhood as they occur to her, in no particular sequence.

I am a detail person and want to savor every word she chooses to use in describing long-remembered life events.

My siblings and I will treasure these memories of hers. After all, they helped to shape the person she ultimately became, the woman we've known only as Mom.

Such reminiscing not only gives descendants greater understanding of their loved ones and their family history, it provides a way to pass on values and wisdom gleaned from a long life.

Remembering "the good old days" also allows older folks to relive happy memories and take pride in their past accomplishments, alleviating the depression and loss of self-esteem that sometimes accompany the aging process.

Now is the time to listen carefully and preserve the priceless remembrances of older loved ones. You will wind up with a treasure, and the senior citizen will feel important, knowing he or she is passing along a gift of living history.

We cannot visit the past on our own; we need to travel on the memories of those who have been there and lived then.

Reminiscing is the way to bind and guide generations.

What better legacy than the wisdom of the ages, expressed through life stories each unique, each historical, each more precious than gold.