Having determined we found it, she reminisced about the daunting bull with a nose-ring in the north field, learning to ride a bicycle coasting down that hill, the pig-pen that had been over there, the wheat fields, the creek bridge, her shut-in friend, and the store down the road. We stood on the farm-sight now scrubby lots with three houses next to the one remaining relic, the tilting barn...smaller than she remembered it. Whereas I thought this memoir research was for her, I benefited in surprising ways.
For my mother, this trip related to a developmental task as described by Erik Erikson, a renowned psychosocial scientist who frames human growth as multiple stages from birth to advanced age each with specific tasks. For the elderly to embrace life, they must be able to integrate their past into their present. In their reflections, they must find their past as meaningful and worthwhile. With success, the aged can find satisfaction and be future-oriented even while accepting the nearness of death. Without this successful reflection, there is despair and bitterness.
Memoir is a popular and effective strategy for intentional recollection. In fact, thinking in terms of memoir helped the creative juices flow for both of us. At one point, I stopped the car, got out and set a folding chair in the middle of a quiet apple orchard to write. I sat among rows of trees heavy with apples hanging red above lush grass and the sound of water trickling from irrigation faucets. Because Mom fondly remembered picking apples with her family, I pictured three-legged ladders, folks filling their canvas shoulder bags, and emptying the fruit rolling into large bins.
Mom enjoyed relating memories to me which effectively collapsed time bringing the past near, helping me see my grandparents and bygone days as complex and real. I could also see that this trip required mom to do some spiritual work. She had to let go of how-things-were seventy-five years ago. I heard her sigh and often shrug saying, "That's progress for you." She and many in her generation view the world on a steady upward path which helped her accept the massive changes. My generation and the following will need to apply our assumptions in a similarly constructive way.
I found myself thinking of the one-room school house as I witnessed my mother's process of integration. It was as if I were a younger student watching the lessons given to my older classmates. The pedagogical benefit is that it allowed me to begin processing the life-work that will be asked of me soon enough.
Spirited women, may you grow with grace accomplishing your developmental tasks. And may you have the good fortune to know and to witness the wisdom of the older students in your life.
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