Saturday, May 4, 2019


Memories          Mementos          Reminders of who we are.           

We family members and friends recall my mother as a tough woman. She worked as an assistant to school principals and was known for her ability to scare the dickens out of a child sent by a teacher to the principal for discipline. But she had a softer side. It showed through when she cried at a funeral of a friend or when she joked with the church choir members from the organist’s bench. 

This softer Mom wanted her kids to remember the family into the future. So she created a collage consisting of carefully selected family photographs and one document--an invitation to her and her young husband's wedding in Spokane, Washington, on August 6th, 1937. This framed cluster of visual reminders occupies a place in my home. I see it each and every day. Just looking at it reminds me of my handsome set of parents and of my equally handsome brother in his younger years. I gaze at it and think, "Yes, that’s my family." The photos evoke great reminders of family values.

Mom's Family Memory Collage
Wedding invitation, top center

Another amazing touch, this on my wife's side of our family. She and I live in a retirement community at the southwest edge of metro Portland, Oregon. The founders of the community organized it in the 1950s to provide a place of retirement for Quaker religious workers and church members. Today the community has grown and is much broader in scope. To celebrate its history to us newcomers in a tangible way, an organizer invited current residents to submit memories and mementos of their relatives who’d lived in the community. My wife submitted a recipe book of her grandmother, Bernice Williams, who lived here in the early 1960s. This week Grandma Williams' recipe book (below, published in 1883) is a keynote piece in the community display case. For my wife, this book brings back multiple memories of her grandmother, her love and her stories.

My wife's grandmother's recipe book in the display

From my own family, I cherish a fascinating framed antique photo of  childhood village church near  Interlaken area of Switzerland. The photo reminds me that my grandmother Elisabeth Michel, an emigrant of Switzerland. She married and the pair settled in rural eastern Washington State, U.S.A.. The photo reminded her of her childhood home. It reminds me of her loving, cuddly grandmotherly way with me as a youngster.  It reminds me that I'm the child of immigrant grandparents, and that immigration is good for America.

Die Kirche, Brienz, Berner Oberland, Schweiz

The youngest of Grandma's ten children was Clarence, my father, a hobbyist painter. Just the other day a visitor to our home recognized a painting on my study wall. “Guymas,” she said. “I’ve been in that very spot.” She was astounded at the realistic quality of the art. 

Dad's oil painting, "Guyamas," 1970

Her comment made me even more appreciative of the painting that Dad had produced--a select hand-me-down that brings back his passion for art and travel. Any good memento will express--no, exude--the loves and skills of our ancestors. 

Join me today in identifying durable mementos you can leave to your family. Whatever you leave will certainly communicate the culture(s) in which you and your family members reside and your moral compass. A silverware set. A piece of beloved furniture such as your desk. Such things will help your family understand and define themselves, possibly for several generations behind you. 

For my wife and me, a visit to the restored immigrant settlement in Plymouth, Massachusetts, helped us to understand her family better. Her ancestors include a Mayflower passenger, John Howland, 1592 to 1673. An immigrant, again. 

A guideline or two: think of items and places that can be seen, visited, and/or used, or even just tucked away in a drawer. Choose quality, durable mementos. For families of the 21st century, I suppose mementos in electronic media will be important. Can posts in your blog fill such a function? I hope that some of posts might. 

Mementos are worth their weight in gold. I'll bet that you have many mementos in your possession. Identify them as such. Hand them on. You can do it. Don't give up. 

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