I wanted to hear everyone’s stories: the defining moments of their lives, their most formative experiences. So I proposed an idea to the administration: What about a community memoir project, a compilation in which each resident who wished to participate would tell me one story from his or her life?
The administration gave me the green light. Forty-seven residents signed up, and six months later our book was in print: The Experience of Our Years: Residents of Carleton-Willard Village Remember the Moments and Events That Made Them Who They Are Today.
It was a joy to work on this project and a joy to see the finished book in print. And at the time, I thought I’d found my new career direction. Other senior communities would surely want to do their own community memoir compilation, I thought. What a wonderful way to make a living this would be.
For a variety of reasons, I soon learned that I was wrong. Other senior communities I visited, though impressed with the book and intrigued by the idea, did not have the same kinds of priorities as Carleton-Willard Village and did not feel that this was a good move for them fiscally. So instead, my memoir business grew in a different direction: Rather than community memoirs, I eventually developed a portfolio of individual memoirs, working one-on-one with clients or couples to create a book out of their life story.
And so I abandoned the idea of community memoirs at senior centers. But in spring of 2017, I was pleasantly surprised to get a call from my contact at Carleton-Willard Village. She pointed out that it was now five years since we published The Experience of Our Years. Perhaps it was time for another volume.
Sign-ups went up on the bulletin boards and I started the interviews early last summer. This time thirty residents signed up – some new to the community, others who had opted not to participate the first time around but had second thoughts after they saw the book. Once again, I heard stories about adventures and decisions, heartbreaks and triumphs, careers and families, travels and relationships. Similar themes, yet entirely different stories from the last time. The youngest participant this time was 79; the oldest, a former town clerk who won several commendations for her years of service to the town of Arlington, was 103.
The book – The Experience of Our Years, Volume II – launched today on site at Carleton-Willard Village and at Amazon.com. I’m honored and delighted to have had the opportunity to work with the residents of this unique community once again. They are a fascinating, insightful, articulate and diverse group of men and women. Needless to say, I’m already hoping to be invited back in another five years.