Life Stories

5 Apr

For me, school history lessons were always dull. We spent months studying the Second World War, examining textbooks on strategic offensives and features of the Spitfire. I’d count down the minutes until lunchtime. In contrast, I loved hearing about my grandparents’ experiences of the War – their personal memories lifted my textbook’s words from the page and swirled them round into scenes of colour and smell. Why weren’t there more stories like theirs in my lessons?

When we first moved to Bermuda we stayed with a couple in their seventies. On the way to the supermarket they would tell me tales about visiting their grandparents by horse and cart, the unveiling of the new railway (now just a walking trail) and the island’s hostility to the motor car. It was fascinating and I wanted to learn more about Bermuda’s history – through the people that had lived it.

This was partially the reason why I’ve started volunteering with the Bermuda Senior Islanders’ Centre. I wanted to hear more of these stories which were only written in corners of minds. And, as a youngish person, I felt that I should give something back to the people that were here before me.

Recently, I’ve started teaching one lady how to use the computer. In our first lesson, she told me one of her stories:

She moved from Ireland to Canada in the sixties to work as a nurse. On her first day she stood in the snow and biting wind, waiting for a bus which said HOSPITAL on its front. Numerous buses passed her, sending splashes of icy water over her legs. None were going the right way. Eventually someone told her she was standing on the wrong side of the road. When she finally arrived, another nurse took one look at her and froze, exclaiming “look at your legs”! She glanced down and her stomach churned; her legs were dark purple. The doctors worked quickly and saved her legs from amputation. After that she vowed to continue her career somewhere warmer and arrived in Bermuda.

Her children and grandchildren live in Ireland. She’s heard of Skype and knows of email but doesn’t know how to get started. I’m thrilled that I can make a bit of a difference to this lady’s life, and hear her stories along the way.

Through the Senior Islanders I’ve also taken on the coordination of a project called Write It Down. High school students have interviewed some seniors, and we are now looking to turn these interviews into a published book – my idea of a history book! Sadly since the interviews, two of the seniors have passed away. It’s disappointing that they won’t see their stories in print, but wonderful that others will.

Sometimes we get so busy with life that we don’t make time to stop and listen to each other’s stories. And yet, unlike the history textbooks which will always exist, these personal stories are as fragile as life itself.

If you know someone who has seen more of life than you, take the opportunity to be transported into another time! And watch the person as they tell their tale. When my nan talks about courting my late gramps, her eyes sparkle, and her face becomes full of beauty and light. For me, her stories will never get old.


One Response to “Life Stories”


  1. The Digital Divide « Dog or Affair - 13 May, 2011

    […] that thought which has been a great motivator for my weekly computer class. You may recall in an earlier post that, through my volunteering with the Senior Islanders’ Centre, I’ve begun voluntarily […]

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