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As we age, memories, old photographs, music, movies, and food give us comfort. We find a sense of connection with our elders even though many have passed.

I flipped through an old recipe book, West Heritage Cookbook, and found my Mother’s sugar cookie recipe. It’s hand-written by her and starts out, “Dear Carol, Sugar cookies” and lists the measured ingredients and baking time. I’ll treasure forever.

I’ve made them several times, and my nephew and niece have picked up the tradition. But, guess what? None of us do it justice. But we keep trying in hopes that one day they will taste like she did the measuring, mixing, and rolling. I suspect my great-nephews and nieces will carry on after us.

Traditions are important to the soul. It helps us tune into our past, treasured values, and the people we love. If we let go of the memories, we feel lost. Maybe it’s why so many are depressed?

Recently, a citizen folklorist and researcher contacted me and asked about my past and that of the members in my Facebook group. She’s involved in a project that explores cultural practices involving end of life. This year, her group will host several gatherings — one of which will honor elders living alone in the area. They hope to help the elders celebrate culture and folklife, to affirm the individual dignity of their community’s seniors, and also to reinforce caregivers and quality end of life.

Here’s one question she asked, “What aspects of memory do you turn to for comfort? Specifically: regarding foods (cookbooks or favorite recipes?) or recollections (from photos, old mementos, etc.)?”

Memories of childhood and since I grew up in a Czech culture, listening to polka music connects my past. Foods like kolaches and Mother’s homemade canned sauerkraut and in the present day, watch my cousins and brother make sausage. When I visit family, I enjoy sharing stories and photos of our past.

Music. I was a guitarist in the hippie days, and lucky to travel and meet lots of creative, talented artists. Most were unknown, but there were a few celebs. A handful stay in touch to play music today.

Old fashioned Southern gospel music brings tears. It reminds me of going to “revivals” in the summer. Ironically, I turned away from the church because of its doctrine, but the music still touches me!

Old movies that I grew up watching- especially musicals- Broadway soundtracks- revisiting my favorite books. I re-read some titles every year and cry.

While at the kitchen table with my grandmother. I loved when we would go through old photos, and she’d talk about her life as a little girl.

The smell of honeysuckle in summer. We had a bush beside our front door, and the smell takes me back to good times.

Sitting around a wood burning stove with my mother and siblings eating Navy beans and cornbread and watching Gunsmoke!

What are your favorite memories? How do you plan to keep traditions alive?

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By Carol Marak

Aging Matters

Carol Marak, aging advocate, She’s earned a Certificate in the Fundamentals of Gerontology from UC Davis, School of Gerontology.

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