Stories told by parents and grandparents give younger generations a glimpse of what life was like for those who came before them.
How grandma and grandpa met. How the family came to settle in a certain area. How family traditions were born. What childhood was like 70, 80 or 90 years ago.
And what makes those stories special is in the telling — straight from the mouths of those who lived them. Those stories are lost when the person telling them passes on.
A project started by local author Michael Sullivan aims to not only preserve the telling of those stories for family members, but also to bring companionship and a little bit of joy to the residents of care homes and their families in the process.
Sullivan, who lives in Sonora with his wife, Ginny, worked for 24 years for the California Department of Corrections, retiring in 2007 from Sierra Conservation Center in Jamestown. He has written several novels since 2012 including “Secrets,” “The Bench,” “Letters 11,” “Broken Chains,” “The Price of Integrity,” “Letter to You,” and “Newman’s Wave.”
The project is named after Sullivan’s most recent novel, “Forgotten Flowers,” because the book is what inspired him. The story is about a volunteer at an assisted living facility, Daniel Kilgore, who is drawn to three residents who have dementia.
In the book, Kilgore says, “I don’t come here so they’ll remember. I come here so I remember.”
Sullivan’s publisher, Frank Eastland, told him what he had written was not just a novel, but also an advocacy book.
“He told me, ‘You do with it what you want,’ ” Sullivan said. “I wanted to do more than just drop in. I wanted to do something a little more impactful.”
And so he is.
Sullivan started the Forgotten Flowers Project in late May and, to date, has recorded spoken memories for three families.
“I record their memories in their words — right or wrong, clear or foggy. It’s their words. … There’s really no right or wrong in the memory.”
An added bonus, Sullivan said, is the happiness of his subjects as they recall their past.
“These people often times are like the homeless,” Sullivan said. “These people are shut in. Nobody sees them. … You see the joy as they’re recounting.”
After interviewing and recording his visit with a resident, Sullivan gives the recording to David Simerly, a friend and local radio personality, to edit into a cohesive narrative. The interview is then burned onto CDs and given to family members.
The family of Skyline Place Senior Living resident Leona Sardella Kisling, 93, was ecstatic with her recorded stories.
Kisling is from a large immigrant family from Pontremoli, Italy, and grew up at her family’s home on Lime Kiln Road in Sonora. Stories of her life include growing up in a large family, adventures with her children and husbands, and a career that included working at several local stores.
“They all called me and told me how much they enjoyed listening to their mother’s memories,” Sullivan said.
Sullivan is hoping to expand his project by involving others.
“I want to do as many of them as I can. Get as many people as I can,” he said.
To do that, Sullivan is hoping to involve the public — Scouts, high school students working on senior projects, or anyone else interested in volunteering their time visiting with the elderly and hearing their stories.
Anyone wishing to volunteer with the program can contact Sullivan at email@example.com or (209) 728-7613.
“In a perfect world,” he said, “I would touch the hearts of people. Inspire them to help.”