The ghosts of the past are being stirred up at the Berwick by the Sea retirement community. So who better to capture them than ghostwriters?
Students from Timberline Secondary School’s English 12 have been gathering stories from residents in a series of visits to Berwick in a project dubbed Writes of Passage. The students, working in teams of writers, artists, editors and book designers, will turn the recollections of the resident seniors into first-person “memoirs” to be published in a book that will be donated to the Berwick by the Sea library next month.
“We’ve been talking with them and taking notes, of any story they want to be told,” Timberline student Halle Weyler said. “We’re taking these stories and making them our own.”
The experience has been an eye-opener for the youths. They’ve heard tales from those who fought in long-ago wars — or lived under nightly blackout conditions on the home front — immigrants homesteading an untamed wilderness without running water, electricity or any of the conveniences they’ve grown up taking for granted; and times of stark deprivation recounted with a smile and a “that’s just the way it was” shrug.
The students have read about these events in history books but seemed shocked to find people who lived that history living in their community.
“One story I thought was cool was a girl who lived through the Great Depression,” said Weyler. “I didn’t expect it would be that far back.”
The project was the brainchild of teacher Rachel Nelson and was sparked by the death of her own grandmother.
“It caused me to remember stories she had told me,” said Nelson. “When I realized my children weren’t going to hear those stories I thought I better write them down in a hurry.”
The project also falls within School District 72’s strategic plan of integrating students into their community while learning through self-directed and collaborative projects.
For the Grade 12 students who will enter the adult world in earnest in a couple of months, Nelson felt it was important to deliver a rite of passage experience that lent the project its name.
“There is no set outcome; it’s really just about having really rich conversations with people outside their normal circle,” said Nelson. “To pull them out of their structured classes and do something organic in their community.”
The published book is simply a “thank you” payback to Berwick by the Sea, she said. Each resident’s tale will be accompanied by an art element and cover a two-page spread in the book. Each spread will be identified with a theme, depending on the nature of the story. A small biography of each resident will also be included.
The residents volunteered for the program through a sign-up sheet, and those taking part seem to genuinely enjoy the interaction.
“They have some dumb questions and some very smart questions,” John Rozema said with a laugh. “They haven’t really experienced life yet, but they’re good kids. It’s a nice experience.”
During a visit by students last Thursday, residents paired off with student interviewers while Weyler and fellow Grade 12 Ben Campbell took turns shooting photos and video. After completing her interview, student Beth Marcaccini plopped in a comfortable chair and began a pencil sketch of the scene that may eventually turn into one of the art works in the book. Some of the interviews involved a fairly balanced question-and-answer dynamic. In some cases, though, the resident simply launched into the story and the student was left to try to keep up with pencil and notepad. Some residents brought yellowed photographs to show, and Nelson scanned several for possible use in the book.
In at least one case, the tables were turned. After sharing her story, inquisitive resident Colleen Godard began grilling Grade 12 student Fraser Stewart on his own family’s background and his plans. She then hustled back to her apartment for a tablet so she could take her own photos with Stewart.
“I think it’s a wonderful idea,” Godard said of the Writes of Passage project. “It makes the younger generation see that being old isn’t the worst thing in the world.”