Does your family have a good story?
Most every family has keepsakes and a good story somewhere. Families collect furniture, books, china and other memorabilia, then pass them on to their children. Such things remind us of stories of the past and turn our minds to the present day evolution of those stories. They form a bridge between family past and family future. Even more valuable than these objects are the genealogies, family stories, historical accounts, and traditions. Keepsakes make us feel connected to each other.
Keepsakes can be big or small, expensive or inexpensive. A keepsake’s value isn’t its worth isolated, but is tied to the meaning we give the object. A keepsake is anything that has a personal or emotional connection. When a relative leaves some cash and a keepsake, the cash can quickly disappears but every time you see the keepsake you think of your relative, keeping their memory alive as a blessing. Familiar objects also provide a sense of continuing comfort, and security helping us keep our bearings, especially if our world is changing quickly. As we change over time, the material objects in our lives do not. A keepsake is something that evokes powerful feelings due to the meaning behind it.
So often, though, the stories behind items are lost because people store them away in the back of the attic never to be seen again until a death occurs or the house is sold. This is why it’s important to preserve not only keepsakes themselves, but the stories tied to them. Whenever you give a keepsake, particularly an item with a family history to it, make sure you share the story behind it. Why is it important? Stories are what bring objects to life. The power of the keepsake lies in what it means in the context of your life story.
Margaret Walsh, a college classmate of mine, shared her story of exploring her family’s stories at a recent class reunion. She reported her mom passed away in October 2018. She spent time with her mom for the few years leading up to that time, caregiving, sharing the responsibility with her siblings. She talked to her Mom about her mom’s life experiences as she uncovered mementos. She chose items that she wanted to save from her mom’s home to bring to her own.
Instead of worrying away the time she did what I encourage all people to do who have extra time on their hands. That is to go through the saved family memories with parents while they are still around to pass on the meaning of all these saved items.
In her case she was looking through her mother’s high school yearbook and when talking to her about some of her friends – many of whom were lifelong friends so she knew them – there was one person in a photo that she did not know. She inquired further about this mystery person her mother told her about something that happened but didn’t want to get into the details (she said it was gossiping). Because of her curious mind she started looking in the Boston Globe archives and pieced the story together from there.
Into the Future
During the pandemic she worked on this intriguing story she uncovered after spending that time with her mom. A version of it, in essay form, is coming out in a book this summer called “beach reader” from Monadnock underground. It is a project that keeps her connected to that challenging time in life. Now many would not go through the effort to follow a story a parent dismissed and many less still would decide to engage in documenting the experience of the discovery in a book or article. Margaret has, and she has saved it into the future by doing so.
Pictured in the featured photo of the line of smiling women, Margaret’s mom is second from left.
Images gratefully used with Margaret’s permission.
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