By Norma Adams-Wade
“Memories/Light the corners of my mind/Misty, water-colored memories/Of the way we were.”
—Barbra Streisand’s “The Way We Were”
Julia Jordan was a walking tower of memories. Few likely would disagree that they were better off for pausing to listen to her storehouse of recollections. The retired educator and historian for her Dallas Black community, church, and family had an innate gift of memory that few individuals can claim. As a reporter, I was blessed to talk with her many times and—like anyone who chatted with her for just a short period—always was struck with what seemed to be her almost photographic recall. Jordan was a trailblazer in her own right in the Dallas School District; and her husband, Dr. Frank Jordan, was a former Tuskegee Airman and one of Dallas’ pioneer Black physicians who helped integrate St. Paul Hospital’s medical staff in the 1950s. Dr. Jordan died in 1991 at age 85. Mrs. Jordan died in 2017 at age 95.
She is gone, but like her memory, not forgotten. Julia Jordan was a storyteller, pure and simple. But although her gift of recall was superior, Jordan was not alone in the pure joy of telling stories. I was just thinking… a door that theater maven Teresa Coleman Wash opened in Dallas made me remember Julia Jordan. Wash opened a door at Bishop Arts Theatre Center that allows Dallas-area elders to put their memories to use. Wash, the Center’s founder and executive artistic director, linked arms with officials at senior living and recreation facilities around town. She then created a program where seniors could get together and share stories of people and experiences they remembered from their well-lived lives.
The program began as Silver Stories Storytelling Circle, designed to quell feelings of loneliness and isolation that some elders experience when they survive or are removed from family and loved ones. Through the program, elders from different communities would meet twice a week at Bishop Arts, go on stage and tell stories, as well as do other activities to stimulate the mind, body and spirit Then the coronavirus pandemic struck. But Wash and her staff of artists and co-sponsors did not waiver.
They came up with a variation of the program and named it Patio Live! That still is very active currently. Here’s how that program works: performing artists go to parking lots and patios of particular senior-living facilities and entertain residents who look out windows or through open patio doors while socially distanced and wearing masks. The living facilities include Tyler Street Towers, Iris Memory Care at Turtle Creek, and The Bridge at Fair Park.
While the performers tell stories and provide music and small props, they also urge residents to participate by call-and-response or by playing small hand instruments. The general public and theater supporters also can view the performances on Bishop Arts’ Facebook and Instagram pages. There are lessons to be learned from these slices of life. Sharing memories is like sharing a meal, breaking bread—like Julia Jordan who shared every crumb. These elders are dividing their loaves. The bread tastes better when you break the loaf and feed someone else.
Norma Adams-Wade is a veteran, award-winning journalist, a graduate of UT-Austin and Dallas native. She is also one of the founders of the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) and was inducted into the NABJ Hall of Fame.