Seniors share their life stories at Tri-Cities Historical Museum

In the lower level of the Tri-Cities Historical Museum, Grace Smit and Abby Dunster heard stories from Mildred Weller, who recounted her 82 years for the children as part of a museum activity Thursday afternoon. The three were part of a group of five children and three elderly adults taking part in Inter-generational Story Sharing. The program was conceived by Nancy Buchanan and another woman as a way to teach the young about intergenerational differences they have with senior citizens.
Jordan Travis
Apr 22, 2011

For one thing, driver’s education was simple to the point of being non-existent, Weller told the two girls. She learned to drive during the 1950s, when she was 23 or 24, she said.

“They didn’t have driver’s ed in school,” she said. “You’d go down to the police department and get a learner’s permit.”

Driving tests consisted of driving a police officer around the block a few times, she said.

“The hardest part was learning how to slip the clutch,” she said.

Smit, Dunster and the other children wrote down the answers from the senior citizens, most of whom come from assisted-living residences in the area, Buchanan said. The children will then write an essay about their senior partner’s experiences.

The program started 11 years ago, Buchanan said. After talking to a woman at the senior center about possibly starting a soap making class at the museum, the woman mentioned that seniors tend to get “cabin fever” in the winter. Buchanan and the woman came up with the idea of having a program where seniors would get a chance to interact with children.

“The idea is that most kids today do not live in close proximity to their grandparents, and don’t know how their growing-up years differ,” Buchanan said. “This is an opportunity for kids to learn about another generation.”

And learn they did.

Dunster and Smit heard stories from Weller about her first television. She got it when she was 23 or 24, she said, and it had a tiny black-and-white screen. She had three channels to choose from. Milton Berle, cowboys and Indians and Saturday night wrestling were TV staples back then, she said.

In order to learn about this older generation, each child was provided with questions to ask their senior citizen partner, Buchanan said. The topics ranged from differences in dress to school, and jobs to technology.

“Lots of these [elderly] people had ice boxes in their home when they grew up,” Buchanan said.

Intergenerational Story Sharing has to compete with after-school sports for childrens’ attention, but many of those who do get involved come back year after year, Buchanan said.

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