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"A Few Hours" by Sherrill Pool Elizondo
I can think of no other way to get out of the doldrums, other than vigorous exercise, than spending a few hours volunteering. If you are feeling depressed or overwhelmed in your personal life, go into any hospital and see for yourself what you have to be thankful for. When I was in my 40s, I was going through a rough patch in my life. There were extended family problems, children were growing up and leaving for college, and my husband was starting to go on frequent business trips. Increasingly alone and no longer substitute teaching, I decided to investigate in what capacity I could volunteer at a hospital. While volunteering there for a few years I worked mostly every week on the Intensive Nursing floor. It was my favorite place to be and I found that I had skills for that area. This meant that I was visiting and helping with patients who were terminally ill. This may sound difficult or depressing for some but for me it was a very rewarding experience. Most of the patients simply wanted to talk and they did not speak much about death and dying. Once I walked into a room where a woman was talking on the phone to a relative and she told the person that the social worker was there and quickly hung up! I assumed that the patient knew that I was just a volunteer but perhaps she wanted to speak to someone else that morning instead of a relative. I felt needed and enjoyed the work immensely. The few days that I had to push a cart with refreshments for staff or fill in for someone else were not my favorite days. I preferred the one on one contact with patients.
For years I was involved with family history research which led to working with others who had researched my father's paternal and maternal side. I never met these distant relatives but we exchanged and shared information, family letters, pictures, newspaper accounts and much more. Eventually a large book was published on my father's paternal genealogy. I found that names and dates, though important, told very little about an individual. War records could be obtained for various wars. Census records and wills could easily be obtained as well. Often,though, only names and dates were recorded for ancestors and little else especially for the women. It was family stories, letters, and historical accounts that made the genealogy research come to life. How interesting to learn, for example, that a G.G.Grandmother had hid in the woods with her family when she was 4 years old because her parents had unfortunately chosen to live on an Indian path. Finding out that another ancestor, who was a sheriff in Texas, died in the line of duty while in pursuit of a "desperado" (with several newspaper accounts) added interesting "Notes" to a genealogy report.
In 2002, I visited an assisted living center and told the activities director that I wanted to volunteer. She said that she needed someone for sing alongs. I said that I could do that but explained what I really wanted to do. I wanted to sit down with residents one on one and interview them about their lives, memories, interests etc. I had no idea how eager and receptive they would be! I did not use a tape recorder but rather relied on my notes with questions to have conversations with them. I told them that I was aware that children often listen to their parents' stories but some fail to write everything down. I explained my genealogy endeavors and how important the stories were….perhaps not to someone now but, with not a doubt in my mind, there would be at least ONE g.g. grandchild who would be interested in the person's life just as I was interested in the historical accounts of my ancestors leaving the Carolinas by oxcart to move west with other families…some eventually moving into Texas. It may have sounded dramatic but I told them that, in my view, everyone's life in the USA is a part of the larger history of the United States.
I spent about 5 years interviewing residents almost every Wednesday morning. With some I had to return to finish the interview and it required 2-4 hours of time with each person. There were some incredible stories. I interviewed some residents who were 95-100 years old who had phenomenal memories. I heard war stories, Bonnie & Clyde stories, rodeo stories, football hero stories, Depression era stories and more. Two pages or 25 pages made no difference, as the person became engaged in recalling and sharing. When I returned home, I would rewrite notes in some type of order as often during the conversation the residents would wander in different directions as they thought of something else they wanted to say. During those years, I transferred stories to my computer but found I could not keep up with this and eventually another volunteer typed up my rewritten interview and then all of this was compiled into a booklet for the resident and his/her family. The project was well received and greatly appreciated by residents and families.
Over the years, I have interviewed about 100 people or more... a rewarding experience for all concerned. I have heard many happy stories, a few sad stories, and some funny stories. I look forward to hearing the words of wisdom and am seldom disappointed. People tell me I should compile a book of these biographies. I cannot do this, as I would have to get permission from so many families. I don't know where these people are and many of the residents are now deceased. The pleasure comes with knowing that what I am doing is appreciated and that someone's life story is recorded for the future and just maybe a few of those booklets may appear in a library some day with my name recorded as transcriber. In the last year or so I have gone occasionally to do interviews and have not decided yet if I want to continue or go into another type of volunteering…..especially now that I see myself in their eyes as I get closer to this "senior" designation. Small or large community anywhere in Texas…there is always a need for volunteers.