Travel, past trips can serve as memory game for seniors

Nostalgia has been back in fashion, big-time, ever since we were sequestered earlier this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

But I discovered recently, quite by accident, that there are some unusual ways to accumulate historical family trivia.

Lots of isolated folks have found themselves sifting through decades worth of dusty pictures and digital photo files, reminiscing about days past that are remembered now as being happier, simpler … even if they really weren’t.

Some of us dove headlong into family history, signing up for genealogy sites or consulting virtually with older relatives.

COVID-19 restrictions have loosened up a bit in some spots — whether that’s good or bad depends on where you are — but it’s still tempting to keep digging further into our past, examining our history and learning more about our forebearers.

That research can also be enlightening during these confrontational “us and them” times. Discovering that “them” is also “us” can be a sobering experience. Go back far enough, and you’re apt to discover that none of our backgrounds and ethnic histories are as pure, or as different, as we might have thought.

Some history seekers shared their discoveries online, with sepia-toned pictures and treasured tales of how their families came to be where they are, how they are and who they are.

Often, someone else’s historical photo or video sends my mind skipping back a decade or more.

Doc Martens. A 1966 Ford convertible. Flapper dresses. Sammy Davis, Jr. Mood rings. Pleather pants. An image from Desert Storm. Even a travel film about the early days of Disneyland.

And recipes! Just a mention of fondue, a Tunnel of Fudge Cake, lime Jello molds and Watergate salad, creamed chipped beef or Spam mac and cheese propels me on a quick memory trip back in culinary time.

Memory games for seniors

As a caregiver for our family’s elder statesman, I know how often the minds of seniors can drift into the past. We talk about his family, his military service, his work before and after we met and so many other topics from “back then.”

For some seniors, it’s a whole lot easier to remember 30 or 50 years ago than to recall what they had for breakfast on the day before yesterday.

While they’re not alone — I don’t think I even had breakfast that day — it seemed to me that if I could work nostalgia into Husband Richard’s requisite mental exercises for the day, it might make the latter a lot more fun.

So, I asked him which of the places we’d visited together were his favorites.

The question stumped him.

I began to rattle off some locations, and for reference, kept a list of them on my cell phone.

What an amazing experience!

Who’da thunk we’d been so many places together! And that all those trips would have been so different from each other.

We started with the obvious destinations, such as Alaska and Hawaii. The former was a 10-week, 10,000-mile motorhome trip with my ailing mom and her six teacup poodles. We visited the islands three times, twice to see Son Sean on Maui and once to attend the Hilo wedding of our dear friend Linda and her fiance, Hawaii native son Jolson.

They’ve been married for a quarter century now. Oh my.

When I asked Husband Richard about our travels, I expected his answer, and the exercise, would last maybe 15 minutes.

Silly me.

We’re still adding to the list.

We’ve progressed from landmark locations to quick trips to obscure places, and, along the way, we recalled specific things that made each visit special:

• Visiting East Coast lighthouses that are closed to the public. And one of them wasn’t well lit.

• Buying 10X strength vanilla in Mexico and taking it back to our bakery. (Unfortunately, I don’t think it’s available any more.)

• Showing Richard places he’d never been, such as the Grand Tetons, Yosemite, Jamaica and even obscure Quartzsite, Arizona.

• Driving the motorhome across far-east, rural Nevada to Reno without going backwards, because the transmission’s reverse gear had blown out and nobody in the wilds could fix it.

• Taking a whale-watching trip out of Moss Landing in 2000 and discovering the boat’s captain was someone I’d interviewed near Ragged Point years before because he, a double amputee, was doing a kayak trip from the Canadian border to Mexico.

Some of the recollections were so ludicrous that they made Husband Richard laugh out loud.

Priceless.

So many memories. So many good times.

Such a great adventure to share with someone special, no matter how old they are, how coronavirus-restricted they are, or how disabled they are or aren’t.

Try it! But be sure to write it all down. Your family’s future generations will thank you.

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Kathe Tanner has been writing about the people and places of SLO County’s North Coast since 1981, first as a columnist and then also as a reporter. Her career has included stints as a bakery owner, public relations director, radio host, trail guide and jewelry designer. She has been a resident of Cambria for more than four decades, and if it’s happening in town, Kathe knows about it.

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