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When I Grow Too Old to Dream

Posted on Thursday, September 4th, 2008.

Kate with Participants
Fellow Facilitator Kate Brown with participants at a recent Memory Loss Initiative recording day

As a Facilitator, I have been present for a number of conversations with people experiencing memory loss as part of the StoryCorps Memory Loss Initiative. Sometimes these conversations are an opportunity for the person with memory loss to share his or her stories, but it is not always so straightforward. In one conversation, a son and his father sat with their sensational mother and wife, whose stroke had left her unable to speak more than a few words. She listened to her husband recount their four year courtship through letters while he served in World War II.

Her son also remembered her devotion to her children and the love for theater she instilled in him. She was quiet and unresponsive during the interview but dazzled everyone near the end with a smile and the words, “Them were the days.” While her voice barely registers on the recording, she is present in the voices of loved ones as they narrate her story. She gently asked him what his very favorite song was, aware that he might not know. He thought for a moment and then replied it was one from his grandmother that goes, “When I get [sic] too old to dream / I’ll have you to remember.”

The words, originally from a love song written by Oscar Hammerstein in 1934, were unexpectedly poetic in the moment. They capture the inevitability of loss associated with aging and also the way that the memory of a loved one endures as other details fade. This is something I have often seen as people make their recording; an individual may have difficulty remembering many details or events yet they are confident in expressing love for the person sitting across from them.

Beyond that is the fear that eventually even this relationship will be forgotten, along with the details of a person’s life–the very things that make up a personal history and a personality. In this case, it is the spouse, friend, son or daughter who carries the stories and becomes the one “to remember.”

3 Responses to “When I Grow Too Old to Dream”

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  • I was humming this song, remembering that my mother sang it many times, usually when she was ironing. I can still hear her lovely alto voice, singing, humming, songs that were dear to her. Now, in the process of writing a family history I looked up the lyrics and found this StoryCorps episode. How inspiring.
    I have listened to many of these stories but had missed this one. Thank you for this reminder of the beauty of simplicity, of love and memories.

    Comment from Marie Thielen on June 19, 2009 at 10:48 am - Reply to this Comment
  • Anna, this touches me since my beautiful poet, storyteller stroke survivor husband can no longer speak in words or write more than one word sentences. After 30 years together though, I often know what he would say at any particular moment. My head is full of his marvelous come backs, and one liners.

    Comment from Leslie Locketz on February 12, 2009 at 9:39 pm - Reply to this Comment
  • This is a beautiful description of the relationships you have witnessed in the Memory project and the way they have touched you. I am glad I will have you to remember, when I get too old to dream.

    Comment from Christy Cutler on September 8, 2008 at 11:14 pm - Reply to this Comment

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