Friday, April 02, 2010


I've written frequently in this blog about making memories. Today I want to talk about preserving memories.

Part of the journey to simplicity is clearing out useless stuff and saving important things. Lord knows that is one of the most difficult and time-consuming parts of the process. One only has to revisit my early posts from 2005 (has it been that long??!) to understand the heart-wrenching details of our trying to weed out the clutter as we struggled with what to save and what to trash at the beginning of our journey. At that starting point, it was hard enough to make the decision of whether to save something, let alone worry about how to save something. But, as my sister and I have come to learn last week, without the proper preservation, the initial decision to save becomes irrelevant.

I spent last week in west Tennessee visiting my family, and during my visit, my sister Joy and I spend some time cleaning out our mother's house. Mother has done marvelously recuperating from her auto accident (and her subsequent broken hip and ankle) at Joy's house, but Mother's own house still needs some attention and maintenance, and we took the opportunity to do just that.

The old attic, of course, proved to be the worst part. Our beloved childhood family church, Harris Memorial Methodist, has been officially disbanded for decades, but our choir-director/church-leader father saved every bulletin and every canceled check from that congregation. We laughed when we came across choir attendance record books from the '40s - if you were a choir member of Harris Memorial and your life depended on knowing whether you attended choir practice on a certain Wednesday in 1942, just contact us! Dad died 3 months before age 65 and his planned retirement, so we figured he would have spent some time up in the attic had he lived in order to sort out some of this stuff himself. But it fell to us to do that for him. Some things we easily discarded, but we were bewildered with old magazines and newspapers, most of the time not having a clue as to why they were saved.

So lesson #1: If you save something for future generations, please put a note with it about why it is important! Your kids and grandkids will not be mind-readers. A birthday card is easy enough to identify, but what about that old fountain pen? How are we to know it was a gift from a special person on a special occasion? What was the article in the yellowed magazine that you wanted to save and why? Who's the wise guy behind the old textbook that on the flyleaf says, "Turn to page 102," then on page 102 says "turn to page 14," then similar random page-turning instructions until you come to the message of "You're a damn fool for doing this!"? Who is that unidentified old lady or little girl in the black-and-white picture? Is this baby dress mine or my sister's?

Summary: If you take the time to save things for future generations, please label, label, label!!!

Lesson #2: Consider your chosen method of saving your important things. Time, moisture, insects, dust, sunlight - they all do their best to destroy your precious memories. As a quilter, I have always been aware that, for instance, a wooden chest is not an appropriate way of saving a quilt unless you use special acid-free paper to wrap the quilt in, because the acid in the wood will ruin the fabric. Baby clothes, old embroidery, tatting - anything that is made of fabric - needs to properly stored. Especially photographs! Hint: Storing photographs under what would become mildewed curtains is not a good plan. A box like that could easily have been misidentified as trash and thrown out without even sorting through.

Summary: If you take the time to save things for future generations, please store carefully! If necessary, do some research on the method that will be the most appropriate for your treasures!

Lesson #3: Don't let the family stories die. This one is tough. When you're a kid, the last thing you want to do is sit with some old family characters as they ramble on for hours about this and that from their childhoods. You're too young to realize the importance of this moment. Even in young adulthood, you're usually busy with raising kids and making your own memories that you forget to sift through and salvage the irreplaceable memories of your parents and grandparents before dementia or death takes them away. Our mom doesn't talk that much about the past, and to get her to give us details is like pulling teeth, but our Uncle Tommy, bless his heart, likes nothing better than to tell story after story, and he is a treasure trove of family history. Only now do we appreciate this. The time will come when, unless remembered and preserved, those stories will be lost forever. Let your relatives talk, and listen carefully. Write it down, retell it, make a video - whatever it takes to preserve something you can't see or touch but which is irreplaceable.

Summary: Preserving these memories is just as important as preserving those baby shoes. Take every opportunity to appreciate and pass on.

And there you have it - my three "journey to simplicity" lessons I learned last week in my childhood home in Memphis. Some of the most wonderful things we possess are memories. Be careful with your family history or one day you won't be able to locate and identify your great-grandfather's photograph or even be able to retell the story of Aunt Bessie as a girl with her dog whose eye barely hung on by a thread (those lovely stories always told at mealtimes)!

No comments: