MEMORY LANE: Book of photos keeps the memories flowing for Alzheimer's patient

For those wintry days when Margrit Maynard cannot take a walk outside of the care residence where she now lives, her husband Allan is prepared. He brings a book.

Margrit can no longer communicate in words. So, Allan found another way. They step into memories of their life together through photographs.

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During the full life Allan and Margrit led over 50-plus years, they travelled extensively, sometimes with their children or with friends, but mostly it was just the two of them. 

For every one of those travels, Allan created a photo book to commemorate their journey.

“We go through our travel books together,” he says. “There’s always a story or memory to go with the photographs, and I remind Margrit about them.”

Another day, Allan will bring a volume of Maynard Memories, his annual photographic record of Maynard family life. With six lively grandchildren ranging in age from three to 14, there is no shortage of material.

“Our grandchildren love these. They are still so young, yet they love to see their early years.” Last year, Allan’s gift to his grandchildren was a book about Margrit as a painter. She taught their children and grandchildren to paint, he says, so this was special
for them.

“As we page through each book, I can see by Margrit’s expressions and gestures that she is responding. A light goes on and she smiles.

“Pretty soon, there’s a gathering around us of residents and carers. They want to see the pictures and hear the stories. It happens when I play the piano in the lounge too. People gather round to listen,” he says.

“I guess it all came together – the photography and then the books – through my dad,” Allan explains. “First, he taught me to label photographs. If you don’t identify and organize them, they disappear into boxes and albums, or nowadays, into the computer.

“These books are much better than sticking photographs in an album. With the book, you can have a note about what is going on in the photo, identify the people and places.”

The North Vancouver pictures begin with family portraits going back to the 1920s on the Maynard side and to the early 1900s for Allan’s mother, Alice Hutchinson.

Alice passed on the gifts of music and hospitality to her family. Allan remembers going to sleep listening to the music Alice and her friends made. Every Sunday, the whole family gathered at the Maynard home for dinner.

George Maynard was a pharmacist, then a chemist and a gifted photographer.   

From Allan’s birth in 1947, followed by brother John in 1948 and sister Sandy in 1951, Maynard family life in North Vancouver was thoroughly photographed.

George’s photographs of his family, with his community in the background, are beautiful. The black and white images are velvety, the colour photographs glow with the richness only Kodachrome slide film could produce.

“I learned about photography while helping dad in his darkroom in the basement,” Allan says. “When Margrit and I moved into our first house, I built a darkroom too.”

In the years that followed his studies as a charter student at Simon Fraser University, marriage to Margrit Briner in 1970, raising their family and developing an environmental lab with a global clientele, Allan carried on what his father had begun, recording the family story in photographs.

These images by father and son are a treasured family archive and a record of everyday life in North Vancouver from the ’40s to the present, as seen through the lens of the Maynard family. In 2018, Allan completed what may be the most important creation of his lifelong labour of love, The Maynard Family history. As Alzheimer’s disease transformed the family, writing the Maynard history and designing the book became a creative and constructive focus for Allan.

“I started in 2016, two years after Margrit’s diagnosis. I wanted to write our family story for our grandchildren.”

Allan wrote the stories of the Maynard and Hutchinson families and his memories of growing up in North Vancouver. He wrote about life with Margrit, raising their family and developing an environmental lab with a global clientele.

“Doing the book was a challenge and also rewarding,” he says. “It really helped that all our pictures are archived and sorted as my father did with his photographs. I can now say I am an archivist.”

Allan ends the book with a message to his grandchildren. He counsels them to appreciate life’s gifts as they come, and to understand that of all of those gifts, the chief among them is gratefulness.

“Now that I am older,” he writes, “I am able to take the time to go back and harvest the many meanings life has given me over the years. … Perhaps I am idealizing my past memories, but most of them are happy and every memory is full of meaning.

“As I face the gradual loss of my dear wife I am grateful she is facing this assault on her beautiful mind with such grace, and with a smile like a ray of sunshine to all her loved ones.”

Laura Anderson works with and for seniors on the North Shore. Contact her by phone at 778-279-2275 or email her at lander1@shaw.ca.

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