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excerpt Dark Wind
Short Story

Floating Feathers Of Yesterday

This story won an Iowa Health Care Association contest a few years ago, but that isn't what makes this particular story special.  What makes it special is the fact that I spent time with a group of people who have Alzheimer's, letting them talk about their memories with some prompting of course.  One wise woman who had always been able to share her wisdom with everyone found she couldn't grasp anything in her memory to share with the group.  Out of desperation to explain why she couldn't remember she gave me this explanation.  I wrote it down, knowing that she was telling me to the best of her ability what many other people want to say and can't.  Here is the story.
Name a hymn.  She could sing it.  Watch her listen to me read and see her pretty smile spread upward to light her eyes.  Easedrop on her conversations between herself and her late husband and you'd hear her let out a hearty chuckle.  On the surface of her soul remained the ability to laugh and cry, depending on the moment, but as Alzheimer's disease covered her brain, it stole her memories.  Reducing those memories to fleeting wisp that floated through her mind like fluffly feathers, all to quickly gone before she had a chance to hold onto them to speak them.
I will forever be grateful for a special moment that'd only come by once.  Alzheimer's disease had taken much from this tall, thin lady with a coarse voice and a subdued demeanor, but it hadn't completely robbed her of a century of wonderful wisdom.  Blankly, she looked at me with sad eyes, searching for a memory to share with me then profoundly gave me a piece of advice.
"When you have lived as long as I have, first you will lose our knowledge then you lose your confidence."
Thinking that was all she wanted to say, I was about to leave when the lady spoke again.  "I have a story about a little boy who last yesterday."
"I'd like to hear that story," I encouraged.
She began, "There once was this little boy who discovered that he had lost yesterday.  He was so sad about that.  The little boy hunted everywhere, but he couldn't find yesterday so he decided to ask his mother to help him.
"Mother," he said, "I've lost yesterday, and I can't find it.  Can you help me find it?"
His mother could tell her little boy was upset and she wanted to comfort him.  "Son, you know there isn't much you can do when you lose yesterday.  It is gone forever if you can't find it.  You have today, and hopefully, you'll have to make due with that if you can't find yesterday."
The little boy felt bad about losing yesterday, but he decided his mother was right, and he was glad he asked her to help him understand."
Suddenly, the lady stopped talking.  The memory feather had floated out of her grasp.  At first, I was speechless to hear so many words strung together in a story from a woman who for so long a time hadn't had much to say.  Then I complimented her on telling a good story and thanked her for sharing.
Feeling sad for what she had lost to Alzheimer's disease, I patted her hands to comfort her, and said that everything would be all right, but she had to feelin her soul what I knew.
Things would never be all right for her again.
In her simple story, she defined one of the ways Alzheimer's disease had affected her.  The disease had robbed her of being able to reflect on the yesterdays of her life.  
                                          The  End
 I've always felt blessed that I took the time to listen to what the lady said and really understand what she was trying to tell me.  That day, I began to think about how much we are missing from other people just like my wise lady by not taking the time to spark a memory and hear their story.  Even if we do hear a story, do we really listen?  Do we remember the details or write down that story?  Family members are going to lose their family history with the elder relatives.  Take it from me, one who has been there, a day will come when many of you will say that you wished you had ask questions about your family past.  We should all do that before Alzheimer's disease robs our loved ones minds of their memories.
I work in a wonderful place.  The Keystone Nursing Care Center is a gold mine of interesting elders.  It occurred to me that I should be digging those rich nuggets that these residents have stored in their memories.  So I take the time to visit with the residents about their life.  Believe me the time it took has paid off.  One of the residents decided she would like to share her black and white pictures with me and a story from her youth.  I brought in a tape recorder, asked questions and listened to her.  The theme in our time together was what a special time going to visit her grandparents was during her childhood.  She had many pictures taken by a special aunt who bought a camera and documented many family gatherings.  I looked at pictures of Shiek, the riding horse, by a line of cousins eager for their turn to ride.  A softball game with the resident at bat and an Uncle in outfield among the cousins.  Pictures of Grandpa's model T and work horses.  A picture of her aunt and uncles with the grandparents and the family dog who loved to have his picture taken.  He minded his own business until time to bring in the milk cows twice a day or until he heard mention of lining up for a picture then he was there to pose.
I took the pictures home, listened to the tape and put a story together in the resident's own words and a little embelishment from me.  Then I sent the story to Good Old Days magazine.  It got accepted for the Good Old Days Special magazine for the July 2007 issue!  Wow!  The resident is telling everyone she is now an author.  She sat by the activity director at a gathering of residents and listened to her story read.  At the end of the reading, the applause was great to hear.  The look of feeling special on that resident's face was such a reward for me.  I did something that took so little of my time by using a God given talent that made a moment in that woman's life that will forever be a bright star to hang onto in dark times.
I don't expect Good Old Days will accept every resident's story, but hopefully the resident's family will treasure a story that they had never thought to ask.  If anyone would like to try this, I encourage you to do it.  The rewards are so great for you, but giving someone who's struggling with memory a chance to be heard is worth your time.  It feels so good for that elderly person to be able to recall the good old days and it doesn't matter if the facts aren't quite right.  Hey, remember it's not your story.  It's theirs.
As with most of us, the lady's pictures didn't have much written on the back to go by, but the lady could name her relatives and explain the pictures so while I was at it, I wrote on the back of her pictures.  Those pictures will be passed on to a son that was too young to remember the people in the pictures.  It is a good bet, he would have thrown the pictures away or packed them away forever.  Some day when the relatives are interested in the family tree and want to know what the relatives look like now they are all set.

Here's how to document those memories.
1.  Visit an elderly person.  Pick a time of day when that person is the most rested and will have the least interruptions.
2.  Take pen, paper and a tape recorder.  Ask if the person will let you tape the conversation.  It might make the person nervous at first, but soon, a story is spilling out and the tape player is just an object close by.
3.  It might not be clear at first what will be the story in a conversation.  That's why you take black and white pictures and the tape home to go over. 
4.  Keep in mind listening to the tape and looking at the pictures may bring more questions to mind to add detail to the story.  Write the questions down and make another visit.  You might or you might not be lucky enough to get the person to remember the story.  Perhaps, a relative could help you with some details.  Give it your best shot.
5.  Want to try and publish the story?  Send it to Good Old Days with the by line   told to       by     and see what happens.  You can get their submission information on their website. Takes 2 to 4 months to hear back and believe me the time crawls until you hear.