Senior Citizens as a Resource

Interviewing 81-year old, Ralph Thacker, for my latest WhatcomTalk.com article reminded me of the incredible, often overlooked, resource that our senior citizens can be.

Mr. Thacker retired in his 70’s and eventually moved to a city where he knew no one. But what he did after that may, to some, be his greatest achievement. He followed his whimsy, because retirement afforded it. He researched the history of Fairhaven, WA’s founder, Dirty Dan Harris, a task no one had yet undertaken. Then he took another step: he shared that information outside of himself. He could have just made his discoveries for his own sake, but he chose not to. Because he took his hobby so seriously, I, and future generations, will benefit from his obsessive toil. What he found will not be lost in the dusty files of the public record.

Dirty Dan Harris boat Ralph ThackerI just finished reading a book about the Ancient Pueblo Peoples, the Anasazi–In Search of the Old Ones by David Roberts. The Anasazi date from around 1 to 1300 A.D. and much of the details of their civilization have been left to the modern day interpretation of ancient clues they left in deserts of the Southwest. Piles of rocks, fragments of pottery, flint arrow heads, petroglyphs, and ropes of human hair are all that we have to help us guess how they lived and what they thought.

Thacker is like the Wetherill brothers, the ranchers who stumbled across Anasazi ruins in their own back yard. They are both a kind of archaeologist, hunting for and piecing together the tiniest of clues that together paint a broader picture of another time. The Wetherills sent their finds to museums. Thacker made his into a modern day museum, a web site.

Without the tireless effort of these hobbyists–amateur historians, archaeologists, and anthropologists–a fountain of information would be sitting, inaccessible in a metaphorical cave in the desert for hundreds of years.

Granted, there are plenty of my elders whose opinions with which I cannot agree, despite their greater experience. But what a resource our senior citizens are. Their perspective, the “data” they’ve collected simply by being alive during a time and in a place we could not witness.

My book club has recently read books about World War I and II, noting sadly that we are approaching a time when those that lived it will no longer be with us. Let us not lose the wisdom of their experience, their direct observation, their mistakes. Let us not force future generations to hypothesize about what we did or why.

Is it our nature to undervalue the experience of our elders? As if we cannot honor our own wisdom without valuing it above others. Is it latent rebellion? Or is it the shame we’ve felt when past generations have made grave mistakes? I myself roll forward at such a pace that I am guilty of not taking the time to sit and listen to the disheveled stories of the seniors around me. But their oral history, their sometimes hidden wisdom, is a great resource that we overlook every day.

I want to hear from a witness what it felt like to be a woman who was not allowed to vote  or a black man who could not own property, just as I want my children to grasp what it was like for others to grow up in a land without clean drinking water, without a computer, and no access to a cell phone.

Despite the downfalls and overwhelming nature of the information age, I am inspired to know that the hard won wisdom of generations does not need to be lost when we die. The task of future archaeologists and historians will be deciphering the wisdom buried deep within the noise.

Soul is in My Soul

I grew up on an eclectic mix of music. In the early days, it was whatever my parents or baby sitters liked–bee-bop, Connie Francis, John Denver, and Gordon Lightfoot’s The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald. My tweens and teens rolled into movie soundtracks, anything Olivia Newton-John, The Beatles, and the buttery voice of 1980’s Casey Kasem Top 40. Along the way I sampled a whole lot of other music–whatever my friends or boyfriends were listening to, and whatever was interesting and cheap at a garage sale on 8-track or vinyl. In my 20’s I moved near the grunge capital of the world, Seattle, and so dutifully listened to 107.7 FM The End in its beginnings. My favorite then was 4 Non Blondes. In my 30’s I found local music and played my loves over and over, discovering that what I connected with most were tunes I could sing along with. When I reached the age to be making a bucket list, and dabble in public performance, garage band floated near the top. But what songs would I sing? I went to karaoke and tried on a few for size. Each time I caught myself singing along with a song with abandon, I wrote it down on a silly yellow post-it and tossed it in my desk drawer. When I finally cleaned my desk, I noticed most of those songs were classic soul by Otis Redding, Aretha Franklin, Bill Withers, and Etta James. That realization led me to those influenced by them, like Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings, Amy Winehouse, and James Morrison. When I started looking around my own neighborhood for a soul cover band to obsess over, it took me only 15 minutes to find the amazing Supergroup, Baby Cakes. Turns out, they are already playing half Baby Cakes group photomy song list, with a lot more in their future line up. I was delighted to get to know them for this WhatcomTalk.com article. All of their future performances are now on my calendar because they play my favorite songs with their full heart and soul, and I can feel that power in my own.

Singing and Dancing in the Heart of the City

I’ve been using my writing to explore my musical side lately. I’m looking forward to checking out the incredible bands I researched for my recent WhatcomTalk.com article about the Downtown Bellingham Parnership‘s urban outdoor Wednesday evening concerts, Downtown Sounds, throughout the month of July.

IMG_3708There’s nothing better than dancing in the street to live local and Pacific Northwest bands as the sun sets over my favorite town in America.

The smell of the food trucks and children dancing with abandon remind me of every August of my school days, dancing barefoot and singing along on the warm pavement of W. Nepessing Street in my home town for Lapeer Days.

My father was the City Parks and Recreation Director and he helped plan and execute the festival for decades. And for a time, my sister worked for the Chamber of Commerce and helped organize the event well after my father retired. I snapped this photo of the bike I decorated and rode in the parade in my early teens. My dad’s work truck in the background was well-recognized in our town. Its possibly the only photo I have connected to that downtown street festival.

That history calls me to the free public events like Downtown Sounds that draw our communities together and mark our summers with steadfast memories. I’ll look forward to it right here at home for decades to come.

Music is Living

When its been a hard day or things aren’t going my way, music is the one thing that always lifts me up. It was my favorite subject in elementary school, singing Yellow Bird and Ben with Mrs. Blanchard once a week. As I grew up, life got busy with sports, homework, and then hard work and family. But through it all, there has been a constant sound track. Falling Up Stairs at Shakedown by Aaron Brick ArtographyMusic, like time or space, is another dimension in my life and I wouldn’t know how to define myself without it.

I wrote this article for WhatcomTalk.com as a thank you to the places in my town that share the art of music every day. What’s your favorite song? Favorite band? Favorite place to hear it? I’m listening.

Murder Jazz band, Falling Up Stairs, at the Shakedown. Photo by Aaron Brick Artography.

My First Job

Other than a paper route, my first job was at Max’s Bakery in Lapeer, Michigan. I poured coffee for the regulars, sold doughnuts by the dozen, obsessively mopped the floor, and learned how really yummy doughnuts were made.

This week I wrote an article for WhatcomTalk.com about my favorite doughnut shop, Rocket Donuts, in my second home town, Bellingham, Washington.

Rocket Donuts Bacon Maple BarsI remember when I worked the afternoon shift, when only a few customers would come by. It was a quiet, catch up time, and I would occasionally get creative and make my own doughnut creations. My favorite was a raised doughnut pumped with two shots of raspberry filling and peanut butter frosting, dipped in chopped peanuts. I also made a Bavarian cream-filled, of course with two shots, with maple frosting and peanuts.

Now of course, I don’t burn enough calories to eat a doughnut every week, so when I do eat one, it has to be great. That alone has made me a bit of a doughnut snob but I have yet to regret the calories spent at Rocket Donuts.

Rediscovering an Old Friend

I recently got to write about an old friend, Mark Turner, and his business, Turner Photographics. We’d been living in the same city, but out of touch for at least ten years. Sitting with him for the interview, I rediscovered all the things that make him an amazing human being. Head over the to The Crossing Guide to check out my article, Mark Turner of Turner Photographics.

Its Not Leprechaun Beer

I recently wrote an article about Bellingham Green Drinks??????????????????????????????? for WhatcomTalk.com. Its not about little Irish men and their gold coins, but instead about a monthly gathering whose only goal is to provide a platform for people to talk about the environment. Check out the article and find a Green Drinks near you!