What does it mean to forget your life story? It seems in this age of increased life expectancy and a simultaneous increase in elderly chronic forgetfulness, we all have some history that needs an oral treatment of sorts - a retelling, so that the stories of yesteryear and the realities of lived experience, however long ago, are not lost with the generation that actually lived it. To have it retold as a poetic, scientific monologue, shared in an intimate, homely setting amongst a close knit crowd is a gift, a way to say ‘thank you for bringing me here,’ to this world, this place and this moment. Helping the history of ordinary and extraordinary members of society live in the memory of everyone in attendance, Joseph Sherman performed his play, Last Words.
The story starts in Odessa on the Black Sea coast, Ukraine in the 1930’s and describes the early upbringing and meeting of Joseph’s parents, Misha and Rita, amidst a Soviet backdrop. They both shared a knack for making money and while communist constraints on business were rife, so too was the black market and some smarts would ultimately provide treats for the bourgeoisie. Joseph was too young to comprehend the politics and his mother protected him from the extraordinary politics of communism but it was at this time in his youth, negotiations between Russia’s leader, Brezhnev and the USA (Nixon) would see his family and many other Soviet Jews traded for grain stores following a bad growing season.
The family passage through Italy to Melbourne, was a classic stroke of luck that saw them stay-cate in Rome for one year as an extended stopover. They were flown with their wares and selves across the world, the only connection to Melbourne for Rita were the trams, also a feature of their hometown. Odessa is a coastal city and uses trolley cars, still today, for local transport. They rejected the holy land of Israel for Australia, there were no relatives but the promise of a new start. It wasn't long after their arrival that Joseph';s parents separated, unable to reconcile their differences, yet their entrepreneurial spirits were let loose. Rita had the gift of style for clothing and had brought with her luxurious fabrics to start a business at Victoria Market, on the side she made decadent desserts for local bakeries. Her work ethic was off the scale and she was an early investor of property.
Joseph went on to study medicine and acting and this play combines the two with a dramatic explanatory performance of his parents simultaneous medical decline due to Alzheimer’s disease. We have no cure despite a century of research. Last Words is a reflection and interpretation of his family’s creative, entrepreneurial, geographical, social and medical journey.
- Joseph's story about his parents, as told to Nat Power
We believe in the power of stories to illuminate and educate. Through sharing our experiences of getting older and caring for those around us, we can help each other navigate the challenges we will all face at some stage in our lives.
If you would like to share your story, email us. We have a team of talented writers who would love to talk to you and help bring your story to life.