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International Older Person’s Day is observed annually on 1st October. It’s the one day put aside in the international calendar of significant occasions when the contribution older people make to society is specifically celebrated.
What better occasion could there be, to celebrate a project involving over-90 year olds.
The recently published book, Remembering ~ A Mosaic of Memories, was created as part of a project conceived and carried out by Rotorua resident Ynys Fraser.
Ynys is 94 years old!
It’s a treasury of random recollections that were prompted in conversation between Ynys and each of 37 individuals, all over the age of 90 and all living in Rotorua during 2010 and early 2011, when they generously contributed their stories.
Ynys was thrilled with their enthusiastic participation and treasured each occasion, realising just how much her visits meant to them. She sensed that each felt ‘remembered’. A 92-year old joked: “Up till then (the earlier gathering of the 90s), no one realised we were still alive.”
Passionate about acknowledging the individuality of each personality, Ynys was determined to recognise her 90-plus-year-old friends as people in their own right. Her book does just that, reflecting the vitality and energy of their lives over the last century.
The process of collecting these memories required steadfastness on Ynys’ part: she phoned first to make an appointment then spent an hour or more chatting with each participant in their own home, while notes were taken which were then chronicled. She later revisited each person with the draft document to have it checked, corrected and ‘signed off’, thus ensuring everyone was happy with what was written. Memory can play tricks as we all know and often, when called upon, details escape, so some contributions are brief while others are more comprehensive. Each is equally valued.
People may not yet have come across Ynys or her book, but chances are they will: she has a dream!
She envisages similar projects taking root throughout the country. She wants communities to record the memories of their most senior residents. She suggests her book could be regarded as one example of how to capture these memories.
She spoke of her dream when interviewed on National Radio in early August and has already personally responded to people wanting information on how to develop a similar project.
“But before you can collect the stories,” she cautions, “you first have to find the people!”
That’s where Ynys’ project really began: over the kitchen sink one morning in April 2010. She was 92 then.
She was thinking fondly of her many friends and realised how few of them were her own age. That got her wondering whether there were others like her . . . and whether they could meet. Being Ynys, she did something about it: she advertised.
She organised entertainment for a lunch gathering in Rotorua: 53 responded to her ad; 49 came to the lunch. The youngest was 90; the oldest 102.
“I was so impressed with the fun we all had and with the vibrancy of my new friends,” Ynys notes, “that I resolved to revisit each of them to collect whatever they were prepared to give by way of their thoughts and memories.”
She followed this up over the ensuing 10 months by meeting her guests individually to garner some of their memories.
“I have been profoundly moved by the stories spilling effortlessly from all these interesting, and, to me, exciting people. Old in body they may be, but old in spirit: never!”
Ynys firmly believes that these people should be valued not only within the family but within the whole community.
“These courageous, enduring, interesting people are a vital link with our past,” she says. “They have loved and lost; triumphed and been laid low. But above all they have survived and found peace and a glowing strength.
“Many of their stories reveal the human fortitude, steadfastness and endurance of spirit that is the essence of our country today. How lucky we are to have these gems here in our midst adding to the fabric of our community.”
The quality of the production, Ynys insisted, had to reflect the quality of the contributors – whatever the cost.
After a year of to-ing and fro-ing the material went to the printer, ready for the book launch on July 5 2011. This was Ynys’ opportunity to honour the contributors and thank them publicly.
The launch itself was remarkable: over 100 people gathered to focus on the honoured guests, each of whom was presented with an individualised copy of the hot-off-the-press book. This was made possible by a grant from the Rotorua Civic Arts Trust which ensured a minimum print run.
None of the participants or their families had seen their relaxed laughing photos until they opened their book. Each story carries one or more photo, all taken casually when the contributor was happily chatting to Ynys.This treasury of memories tells of resourcefulness and grit – and finding fun in hard times. It conveys an insight into the social history of last century.
Realising how precious that record is, Ynys now has a passion to see this project replicated throughout the country – adapted by communities to suit their circumstances. In whatever way it’s done, she feels it must be done soon. She’s very aware that time is running out.
Four of the 37 participants have already passed away, but not before they saw and approved their contribution.
Ynys would love to see communities all over New Zealand getting involved.
“ . . and round the world, too,” she suggests, adding, “I have been humbled by their vitality, their excitement in living, their personal pride in surviving the years – their ‘stories’. I’d like to think this ‘mosaic of memories’ can assist others by providing inspiration and encouragement.”
Maybe International Older Person’s Day 2011 is a good start-up point for this worthwhile project to get wheels?