Margot, a resident of Chaparral House in Berkeley, California, enjoys a visit from her daughter. Margot and other CH residents read and discussed our anthology The Hale Street Gang: In Cahoots over the summer, and their response to the book was enormously gratifying. The following article ran in the Chaparral House newsletter:
When the Berkeley Adult School goes on summer vacation, Chaparral House loses three of its programs. Activities director Sandi Peters gets a little creative with her staffing and finds some very qualified volunteers to become “substitute teachers” for these programs. She looks to other staff members, like admissions director Paul Cooley. When Sandi approached him about replacing the Wednesday morning “Then and Now” segment, Paul thought of reading a book titled The Hale Street Gang: In Cahoots to Chaparral residents. His office is located right next to the activities room and he hears a variety of volunteers who read aloud for residents. The book is a collective memoir put together by a group of Randolph, Vermont, senior citizens. It was edited by his cousin, Sara Tucker, and Paul's father and two aunts were among the twelve writers in the collection.
“It wasn’t my intention to simply sit in a chair and read the book to residents," Cooley says. "I thought of classes that I took in college called oral interpretation. Students who were theater majors took literature and developed them for performance. I was thinking I could use a book club format where I read the author’s memoir, one at a time, and then asked the residents questions about what I had just read. It could also be used as a form of reminiscence therapy. It’s a great way for elder groups to find common ground to relate to one another. In hearing about the families and loves and war times of The Hale Street Gang, our residents were able to discuss their lives in a way that I had never heard before.
"One resident recalled author John’s memoir about fishing and his playful speculation that the worms may have talked to one another. She used to teach and it reminded her of an assignment she gave to a student where the student rose very early each morning to document their movements in and out of the earth. The student came to the same conclusion.
"One of my favorite sessions was reading to them about marriage and courtships. After I had read to them about Ruth and Harrison and about John being dumped by Dolly McBride only to send him to his eventual wife Cynthia sometime later, the residents told me their wonderful stories about meeting their husbands and wives. This one lady who dozed through many of our sessions was awake for this one and said to me that she knew she was going to marry her husband on the second dance at the USO. She wanted to be clear that it was the second dance—and not the first, because on the second dance, it was cheek to cheek.
"My best decision was to invite actors—Marilyn Kamelgarn and John Hutchinson—to read segments aloud to the residents. Both Marilyn and John reached the residents in a way I couldn’t because they looked the part. When Marilyn read a very amusing piece that my aunt wrote about being angry with a boy she was dating, it garnered not only giggles, but my aunt got a fan! Marilyn’s interpretation of Ruth and her relationship with her sisters resonated so much with resident Margot that she asked me for my aunt’s address so she could write her a letter. I heard my aunt was thrilled to get it. I look forward to George going on Christmas break so I can take his time slot, and I hope my cousin Sara can get the Hale Street Gang to write some holiday memories for my actors to perform."