Beloit College Magazine

Beloit College Magazine

Fall/Winter 2012 (November 16, 2012)

52 Ways to Reminisce: Deck of Cards Spurs Conversations


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November 16, 2012
By Lynn Vollbrecht’06

Reminisce: Deck of CardsNeil Slobin’71 knows that something as simple as a deck of cards can serve as the starting point of a great conversation. He’s seen it time and again with Sweet Memories, the set of 52 oversize cards he and a graphic design partner have developed, produced, and distributed internationally.

The size—5 by 7 inches—is not all that sets this deck apart. One side of each card is printed with a selection of vintage black-and-white photographs, while the other poses a question meant to serve as a conversation prompt: “Who was the person you would have most liked to meet in your lifetime?” or “What was the first car you ever owned?” are two examples.

The cards are the product of a very personal experience. In visiting a close friend in a nursing home, Slobin found that they quickly ran out of things to talk about. “As I was leaving, I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be nice if there were questions you could reach for?’”

He got to work, developing a list of questions aimed at a demographic born in the 1920s, and crowdsourcing among his friends and family to see which questions resonated. An effort was made to include a mix of both light-hearted conversation stimulants and a few queries that are more probing. He sifted through thousands of photos to choose the prints that would appear on the cards, and even included one of personal significance: a photo on the cardboard package is of his parents in 1943, his father in uniform and ready to ship overseas.

The cards have been on the market for several months (they are available on Amazon.com), and Slobin conducts demonstrations in nursing homes in the Cleveland, Ohio area, where he lives and teaches philosophy at John Carroll University and Lakeland Community College. He describes the stories that people share during his demonstrations as “incredible,” with the cards also spurring some intergenerational storytelling. At one bookstore launch, a young boy, his parents, and grandparents came in and bought a set of the cards, telling Slobin that the boy had to write a report on his grandparents for school. “They were using the cards when I passed them a half hour later. It was perfect,” Slobin says.

The most satisfying part of seeing the cards at work, he adds, is knowing that they may help people open up at a low point in their lives.

“The great thing for me is knowing that people will talk about events, experiences, memories—both large and small—that will bring people together and enable them to share their lives in new and poignant ways,” he says. “Much of this will occur when people are lonely, isolated, depressed and facing uncertain futures. If I can help people in these very difficult moments, that, to me, is intensely gratifying. It doesn’t get any better than that.”

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