When my dad’s side of the family met for a beach vacation, my aunt and uncle arrived with a cardboard box filled with my grandmother’s keepsakes. They had found them among the things that were moved from her house to theirs after she passed away and they thought that since it was such a rare thing for all of us to be together, the vacation might be a good opportunity for all of us to go through the box, maybe pick a thing or two to keep to remind us of grandma, and share some memories.
The box was filled with photos. There were piles and piles of loose photos and framed photos, photos in wallets and photos in an album. There were photos we’d never seen before of our great grandparents. There were photos of my grandpa working at jobs I never knew he held. There were lots of photos of my dad and uncle as little boys. And there were pictures of us when we were small, too. We were carefully placed in the album, in birth order. I think my favorite pictures were those of my grandma herself. I realized when we were talking about that box that I didn’t have a single picture of her. And there she was, just as I’d remembered.
One of the things in the box was a small wooden chest that grandma used to keep her most precious and personal mementos. We looked through that box together, finding out about the very best and very worst times in our grandmother’s life in her own words, in letters from friends, in letters she wrote, in newspaper clippings and little trinkets and keepsakes. We learned a lot about what made our grandma the woman she was. My sisters and my cousins and I are all women who are of an age that we can relate to the highs and lows that those items in that little wooden chest represented to her. It was kind of like getting a chance to get to know our grandmother as women sitting around the kitchen table with her, rather than the silly little girls who sat around the table with her and saw her only as our grandma who loved to play board games with us and fill us with sweets.
Also in the box were cameos. Lots of cameos. She loved them, and she had quite a few. She had enough, in fact, that all five granddaughters chose one to keep. I think I am going to have mine matted and framed. None of them are fine jewelry. Far from it. Grandma didn’t have fine things. But she did appreciate a pretty little something, especially if it was a gift from one of her people.
I have custody of the box for now. I have carefully removed all of the photos from the old, magnetic album. And I plan to scan and save all the photos on a thumb drive for each member of the family. I like the idea of having them in some sort of safe format that can be shared with everyone. I like the idea of having my own copies of some of those old pictures printed for my own home.
I am a big fan of saving the family history. I am not a big researcher of genealogy, but I love the family stories that pictures and mementos tell. And I wonder if what I leave behind someday will help my girls and whatever people fill their futures understand what it was like to be me?