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153 Curating Time’s Body Elders as Stewards of Historical Sensibility Mary Hufford In the 1980s, folklorists were rethinking the implications of our field’s historical reliance on the elderly. Insights emerging from the field of gerontology affirmed what we had long sensed, that there was much more to be gained from engaging the long memories of seniors than the “study of culture at a distance” (Mead and Metraux 1953). As the remarkable infrastructure for the support of folk arts spread across the states, enabling the growth of public folklore, a pattern explored by essays in the present volume was gaining clarity. At a certain point as we grow older, many of us discover a need to give form to memory, through practices of remembering, suturing together parts of a life lived long over far-flung times and places. Whether these practices take the form of folk art as officially recognized, the imperative, its means of expression, and its effects are now widely recognized. What we may be slower to appreciate is how much skin we, the researchers , have in this game. Marjorie Hunt, Steve Zeitlin, and I wrote about this pattern, in which we saw a promising and exciting new direction for age-related folklore research and public programming. The book we coauthored, The Grand Generation: Memory, Mastery, Legacy, was inspired in part by anthropologist Barbara Myerhoff’s pioneering ethnography of a community of elderly Jews in Venice, California, Number Our Days. In the film of the same title, Myerhoff avows her personal stake in that research: “Someday, I’m going to be a little old Jewish lady.” Tragically, that didn’t happen. Myerhoff died at the age of fifty, leaving us to reflect upon—with growing appreciation for—the wisdom suffusing her ethnography of elderhood. Rapidly advancing toward elderhood in our own families and communities, in 8 The Expressive Lives of Elders (2018): 153–171, DOI: 10.2979/expressivelivesofelders.0.0.09 recent years we’ve experienced in visceral ways the accumulating effects of our participation in what Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, in her introduction to The Grand Generation, called the “recurrent and enduring” aspects of life, given form, made into artistic objects of reflection, sometimes by people closest to us. Over the three decades since we coauthored The Grand Generation as thirtysomethings -only Steve Zeitlin had children at that time—we have all three been through the cycle of childbearing and rearing. For me, those experiences have illuminated something that one of the featured artists, Ethel Mohamed, expressed so eloquently—the strange sense of déjà vu from a new point of view granted by a different role in the same process, seen first through our eyes as children, then through our eyes as parents. “I am the age of whoever I’m with,” she says in the film The Grand Generation. Our implication in these cycles can catch us by surprise. When my mother, Barbara Hufford, took up carving in her sixties, I realized I was becoming the daughter of a folk artist (fig. 8.1). From the mid-1990s until her death at the age of 87 in 2017, Barbara produced and gave away dozens of carvings commemorating events and scenes of our extended family life—my brother’s home improvement projects (fig. 8.2), my sister’s interest in lepidoptera (fig. 8.3), my husband’s woodworking (fig. 8.4), the burrowing owls that shared the neighborhood in Cape Coral (fig. 8.5). Her carvings consoled us for the deaths of cherished pets (figs. 8.6 and 8.7). Barbara’s choice of materials represented the ecological settings in which she and my father lived out their later years—the eastern deciduous woodlands , the bayous of Louisiana, the beaches and canals of southwest Florida, and the pine-covered piedmont of Richmond, Virginia. Her creations of acorn caps (fig. 8.8), seashells (fig. 8.9), pine needles (fig. 8.10), and gourds she grew in her garden (fig. 8.11) populate the homes of children, nieces, nephews, neighbors, and grandchildren. For a family reunion when they lived in Florida, Barbara made twenty canes out of the flower stalks of coconut palms, each topped with a figure she thought would be meaningful to the recipient (fig. 8.12). Everywhere my parents walked during the last few years of their lives, their canes accompanied them. While helping to care for my mother following my father’s death, I witnessed firsthand a principle emphasized in The Grand Generation: the...


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