It’s Hard to Be Nostalgic When You Can’t Remember Anything

Here is an activity that worked well for me. I invite you to give it a try.

The idea, for me, began in 1995. My closest friend, Bemi, was turning eighty, and her daughter Maya decided to give her an eightieth birthday party. Maya arranged with Madam Wu who, since she opened her first Chinese restaurant in Santa Monica, had been a friend of Bemi’s, to hold the celebration in her banquet room and supply appropriate refreshments on a given Sunday afternoon. Maya sent out invitations, which included a request for a one page memoir to be sent before the party, so they could be put together in a scrapbook which would serve as everyone’s birthday gift to Bemi.

The occasion was a fine success. More than a hundred people came, and as part of the entertainment some of the memoirs were read aloud. I was surprised that one of the stories Maya picked to read aloud was the one my ex-husband Bob wrote about the night after dancing at Camp Hess Cramer when we all clambered over the eight-foot fence around the swimming pool to go skinny-dipping.

In spite of the apparent success of the party, from my point of view there was one problem. Bemi’s Alzheimer’s was far enough advanced that although she sat through the party and enjoyed herself, she was not really aware of what was happening.

I decided I didn’t want that to happen to me. I hinted to the family that I wanted to have a big celebration on my seventy-fifth birthday. When that day came my total acknowledgment was two telephone calls. Oh, well.

So the next year I sent out the following letter to friends and family:

HELLO, FRIENDS

JULY 12, 1999 CAROLYN BRENT HITS THE BIG 76!

“Oh, horrors,” you say! “What should I do to honor her?”

Do not worry, Dear Ones. In keeping with my policy of being

open and honest and asking for what I want, I’m telling you.

What I would like from you is one or two written anecdotes (memoirs) recalling some instance from our lives. They might be meaningful, funny, something we all remember, or something
I haven’t known about. You can add a drawing or photo.
What I plan to do is enclose them in an album for our mutual
enjoyment as the years wear on.

Carolyn at her 80th birthday party with one of her gifts, a hand-made “Alter Ego” doll
Carolyn at her 80th birthday party with one of her gifts, a hand-made “Alter Ego” doll

Then I added my post office and my e-mail addresses. It worked.

I now have a scrapbook filled with memoirs written by those close to me. I keep it in the bookcase near my bed, and when I feel nostalgic I pull it out and read a few pages. It is one of my most cherished treasures.

It worked for me. Maybe it would work for you.

A

P.S. So I planned my
own eightieth. The in­vi­ta­tions went out two years ahead. Everyone came and we had three wonderful days at the Yosemite Bug Hostel. And yes, I got another batch of memoirs for another special scrapbook.

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