At the request of the group, today’s topic for our online meeting was “Red Letter” days and holidays. Reflecting on special moments that were physically warmer or emotionally bright for us, turned out to be the perfect choice to lift all our spirits during this transition into darker nights and chillier mornings.
I started by reading the beginning of a poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow:
"The holiest of all holidays are those
kept by ourselves in silence and apart;
the secret anniversaries of the heart."
and then guided the group to think about the moments that have most stood out for them and why.
The conversation afterwards was incredibly rich and moving, with lots of laughter and memories shared. As always, it was so lovely to notice how others’ memories had a contagious effect on mine like yawning or laughter do!
Do you have objects around your house that act as a portal to a place filled with memories and stories? Our participants certainly do! We had lots of fun sharing our old items and their associations during this session which we co-hosted with Sophie Woodward, Professor of Sociology at Manchester University. The event was supported by the ESRC Festival of Social Science, which is an annual, UK-wide, free celebration of the social sciences.
Objects shared by local people as well as members of the group were displayed around the room as a way to explore a range of issues, including things like interview methods, memory work and building connection and community. It was a great success, with lots of fabulous stories shared and several new connections sparked.
Treasured memories came tumbling out of the wardrobes Jolene invited us to picture in our minds. We shared stories of clothes worn on special occasions, in our school days, of clothes made for us with love, as rebellious teenagers, and more. Some of us met online, some face to face a fortnight later, but we all enjoyed the rich theme (or should I say seam!) of the clothes we wore in the past and the lives we lived then.
Here are a few of the stories and photographs some of us chose to write up afterwards. Coincidentally, the stories all have warm memories of our mothers stitched into them.
We had a choice of two themes for our meeting on 14th August, either “coincidences – truth can be stranger than fiction” or “unexpected happenings with good results”. These led to a fascinating discussion of the strange experiences we’d all had in our lives. Maybe the longer we live the more likely we are to gather such amazing stories. Maybe like the dreams we don’t remember, there are many more coincidences we simply don’t notice. Maybe it would be an even stranger world if coincidences or the unpredictable never happened. It would certainly be a duller one!
Recently, we had a very friendly and talented guest in the form of Gillian Torres. Gillian is a writer who also helps people connect to their own voices and tell their own tales, through therapeutic writing and cathartic conversations. She also has her own website called http://audioautobio.com/ where she offers an audio memoir service that is very much in keeping with our values at The Stories of Our Lives. When I chatted to her about our group and this blog, she wanted to come along and offer her services to our members so we could get a taste of what she does.
On Monday 19th July, under the bright sky of an extraordinarily warm day, a group of excited people gathered at the West Didsbury and Chorlton Football Club. We weren’t there to watch a match, though in its own way, it was a game of two sides. One side was a collection of young people from Chorlton High School and the other local people who ranged in age. Instead of football, we played music. The results of the match were fantastic for both teams. Read on to find out more!
Celebrating times gone by, as we simultaneously enjoy what is currently happening, is the fine balance that this group is often blessed to find during our discussions and reflections. The current brighter, warmer days have admittedly helped create this balance as we ponder on past summer memories and associations!
I was certainly left feeling uplifted by hearing the sunny memories the group shared. What stood out for me was the mention of adventures in mountains, laughter shared with friends and family, the rituals of regular holidays, cricket games, sunburn stories, ice creams under endless blue skies and simple but delicious picnics. I hope you enjoy these stories too. Please comment below with memories of your own!
Recently, our group has reached out to the wider community and formed new connections across the generations. Part of this has involved a joyful exchange. We shared our blog post on our much-loved toys and games with a class of Year 5 pupils at Chorlton Primary School and then, after reading our memories, the children wrote back to thank us and tell us about their favourite toys and activities. Read on to see what they shared.
Recently, some brighter days inspired the group to meet outdoors at the Tea Hive in Chorlton. It was a real treat and we had a very lovely get together – the first in-person one since lockdown! Many members had not met each other in person before and we laughed in surprise about the fact we had bodies below the shoulders and heads we had got so used to seeing on screen.
We shared tea, coffee and some lovely cake whilst getting to know each other in 3D again. We also spent some time reflecting on our experience of the group and ideas of what to do next. Watch the video below to see the uplifting feedback. Alternatively, read the quotes separately below if that works better for you.
“I enjoy the opportunity to speak and connect with others.”
“As we get older, it can often get treated as important or having worth but this group helps us participants feel valued and purposeful.”
“Listening to people as we do, shows that ordinary people have fascinating lives, even when they might think they don’t! This also then reminds me to value myself too; realise that I have had an interesting life also.”
“The group is warm, inclusive, friendly, encouraging and HAPPY!”
“You can get as much or as little out of the group as you like. You can use it as an opportunity to simply tell and hear stories or you can write something up inspired by the storytelling.”
“We are in unprecedented times. The best way to break the cycle of uncertainty and worry is by connecting, creating community and sharing with others is good for everyone involved.”
“The group is a chance to meet people I wouldn’t have otherwise. It is a diverse group, very intergenerational and we have great, often surprising, conversations. “
“I like having an incentive to write on a regular basis and I also enjoy the sharing of memories on a topic, how they are sometimes similar and sometimes so very different.”
“This is good place to improve writing and storytelling skills and also a good place to talk and manage mental health conditions like anxiety.”
“You could just come and listen first or read the story book to get a feel for the group. Or jump straight in a share some memories with us all during a session!”
In our minds’ eyes, Jolene asked us to picture ourselves in a place where we’d felt moved or inspired by a book, a film or a work of art. It’s no surprise that afterwards we buzzed with things to say to each other on Zoom, on a topic which followed on so well from our previous meeting about great storytellers we had known. We all enjoyed recalling powerful emotional, visual and auditory responses to the creative works of others, and sharing our reactions to those books, films and paintings with each other. Your comments are welcome too, after reading the reflections some of us have written after such a rewarding session.