Thursday, October 1, 2015

Gifts from the Past

By Suzanne Morgan Williams

We are living in a time children born today and in the future will consider historical. What we, our parents, and grandparent remember clearly will seem fuzzy and perhaps unbelievable. A world without personal computers? A time when Japan was one of the United States’ great enemies? What? No plastic? Future authors will bring out current time to life with details and characters that they’ll construct from blogs, journals and museums. We won’t be here in person to inform them. And whether we’re talking about authors or descendants yet to be born, we could leave them a gift.

A few years ago my uncle died and my aunt, knowing I was interested in genealogy and family stories, sent me a large box. When I opened it, I found a treasure of my grandfather’s papers and small items that my uncle had inherited from him. I read through the paid off mortgage note for $800, the 1905 Kansas University yearbook, and the railroad passes and retirement documents. I held his draft cards. Then I unzipped a pouch that was nestled in the bottom of the box. The smell of his tobacco escaped after being encased for near fifty years. I was transported to his side, listening to the staccato words of the announcer calling the plays of a ball game through the big console radio. I waited patiently for him to tamp down the tobacco in his pipe, strike a match, draw in the flame to light the pipe, and then hold the match for me to blow out. How I loved him. All that was in the smell of his tobacco.

My grandmother had saved the pouch and the pipes. My mother had delivered it to my uncle. His wife had passed it to me. Now it’s stored in my bedroom. Who else will love that tobacco like I do. Probably no one, unless I tell the stories that go with the smell. 

So my suggestion: We are the keepers of our own history. What objects do you have that hold memories for your children, grandchildren, or community? Do some things need to be donated to your city or state historical society? Can you create a box to pass down with small things that will spark emotions? Be prudent. No one wants a collection of junk to sort through. But a photo, a souvenir, your great grandmother’s poetry may be magical. They will convey our own history in all its rich detail. And for those yet to be born, be sure to write down the stories.

Teacher Tip – consider having your students create memory boxes for themselves, with their families, or virtual ones for the characters in novels you’re reading. Then they can author the stories to go with the contents.

1 comment:

  1. I have a Rio Grande wool blanket that my great-grandmother wove in New Mexico in the 1800s. When someone in my family and extended family marries, the newlyweds kneel on the blanket as they are serenaded an old Spanish narrative song commemorating the occasion. I agree that heirlooms and special objects call to mind special memories and stories that need to be told.