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Grandview seniors given opportunity to pen memoirs

GRANDVIEW - Grandview senior citizens longing to get their memoirs in print but having no clue where to begin now have the opportunity with "Life Chapters," a series of free classes offered at the senior center.

Long-time local writer Barbara Olmstead will spearhead the series of classes slated to begin on Feb. 26.

Olmstead said the idea came to her last year via a news clipping of similar classes held in the upper Yakima Valley. "I thought that it would be a neat thing to do," she said.

Her first step was to call the Grandview Parks and Recreation Department and share the idea. Now, a year later, the pilot program is ready to take off.

Not only will Olmstead be overseeing the program, but Grandview High School students are stepping up to the plate as well. If the seniors want to verbally discuss their memoirs, the students will transcribe recordings. If the elders want to write about their stories, the students can help in that area, too.

Olmstead feels that the students are a vital element to the program for several reasons.

"It can never hurt to have older people mixing with younger people," she said.

She's also hoping to foster an understanding of historical changes that have taken place, changes students may not truly understand.

One example she has is the difference between how the seniors got to school and what they wore versus the clothing and transportation that's commonplace to youngsters today. "The intermingling is going to be interesting.

"What we've seen in this last century is absolutely mind boggling and they (the seniors) have lived through it," she said.

Grandview's Hubert Kirklin, who's 94-years-young, clearly recalls many life events that everybody in his generation experienced, but he has unique, individual memories of those events.

One example he uses is the influenza epidemic of 1918-19. "People like me remember that very strongly because I had it...they didn't have flu shots back then. The boys brought it over from Europe.

"There for a while, there was a line-up of funeral processions waiting to get into graveyards," he said. He recalls that everybody was losing somebody to the flu. Fortunately, he says, "I had a light case of it."

Olmstead hopes that the inter-generation program will help students understand trials and triumphs the elder generation has faced. "These high school students are going to be us someday. They just don't know it yet."

Each story is unique, and Olmstead has a clear understanding of that. "We're all people on this earth together and we share some common things. But we also have those things that make up our own personal story."

It's a sentiment echoed by Kirklin. "So many people have similar stories, but have all lived through it differently," he said.

"There's a lot of stories that if we don't get them down, they'll be gone forever," he added.

For Olmstead, even what may seem like a small detail can be incredibly interesting--and lost if there's no record of it.

One interesting detail for Kirklin is that he was born on the same day, in the same hour, that the Titanic sank to the ocean floor. For him, this spurned an interest in learning more about the ship. He even trekked to Seattle once when a piece of the ship was on display there.

What was his impression of the Titanic after he made the trip? "At one glance of it, I realized why it sank. Too much carbon in steel that made it brittle. It was cracked all over and it broke out hunks of it when it hit (the iceberg). That's what really sank it, because it didn't hit hard enough. They don't understand (metal) like they do today," recalls Kirklin.

And what will Kirklin's descendants know about his parents? "I think of how my mother left Missouri and pert near walked from there to Spokane. Riding isn't comfortable in a wagon with no springs. Dad told several interesting stories that I don't think should be buried," he said.

Kirklin has already taped five 90-minute cassettes for his family. And that, he says, is just some highlights.

Joy Voss of Grandview already has two biographical works in progress, but she's eager for the classes just the same.

She views "Life Chapters" as a way to share area history. She's been in Grandview for 35 years, but she's been a longtime Washington state resident.

Her maternal grandparents migrated from Italy and farmed land near Cle Elum at the west fork of Teanaway. Her mother attended a school that no longer exists. Her paternal grandparents homesteaded on the Nile up by Naches.

Voss' creative wheels are already turning and, in that, she can add ideas to the class, too. In her biography for her two-year-old granddaughter, she's including family recipes. Some are by request, like her daughter's desire to have her mom's zucchini-stuffing dish recipe. And then, of course, there's Voss' mom's homemade, bona fide ravioli recipe, which includes making the dough, rolling it out, and adding the ingredients.

Voss finds value in both good and bad memories. "I have memories that I look back and think about. Good memories and ones that weren't so good, but (I think about) how they influenced my life."

Olmstead understands. "You learn through your good and your bad experiences. But they (the seniors) persevered and got through it."

Voss' philosophy is that you see changes over the years and, whether their good or bad, "That's life. It's a roller coaster, up and down. It's a nice idea to tell some things that have happened throughout the years."

The stories can be as brief or extensive as the senior citizen participating in the program chooses to make them. The students will bring tape recorders when the program begins and the goal is to have the students transcribe the memories. But that's just one option. The other option is to have the elders actually write their memoirs.

Olmstead said that her goal is to create "thought triggers" for the seniors, offering key questions to help start putting the stories together.

"We don't know what kind of shape or direction it's going to take," she says of the pilot program.

Perhaps the direction it will take is one that treks back through time, revealing individual life memories--treasures that otherwise wouldn't be shared with younger generations.

The classes begin at the senior center on Monday, Feb. 26, and will take place every Monday through March from 3 to 4 p.m.

The classes are free. Says Parks and Recreation Director Mike Carpenter, "The most important thing to bring is the seniors, themselves."

For more information, or to sign up, call Carpenter at 882-9219. All seniors are welcome.

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