Last Sunday we went over to my parents’ house to celebrate Kelsey’s and my birthday. After lunch, mom and I went back into her spare bedroom so that I could look for a photo in the big chest where she keeps all her albums. While I was looking through boxes and flipping through the pages of the photo albums, mom was sitting on the floor next to me going through her cedar chest…the one her grandmother gave her when she graduated from high school in 1967. It started out as a ‘hope chest’…a place to collect things for her future home – its first contributions were a pair of embroidered pillowcases. But now it serves as safekeeping for all of her most treasured keepsakes.
Opening mom’s cedar chest is like traveling back in time. Each item holds a special memory and tells the story of her life. Like her wedding dress which was handmade by her mother and her grandmother. Like, the jacket from my dad’s Air Force uniform – the one he wore when he and mom got married. It’s where she keeps the mint green formal dress that her mom made for her during her sophomore year to wear to the prom. It’s where she keeps my brother’s and my baby books. It’s also where she keeps her mother’s scrapbook.
I looked over my mom’s shoulder as she turned the pages of her mom’s scrapbook – something she hadn’t done for many years. Inside were little mementos that Edna (my mom’s mom) had saved through the years. Beautiful greeting cards from friends and family filled many of the pages. In addition, she had also saved many of the little notes and letters that my mom had written.
These seemingly small things take on a much greater significance when placed in the context of Edna’s story… a story that was often marked by chronic illness.
Whenever Edna had to be isolated or hospitalized, my mom and her brother would be “shipped off” to stay with relatives. It was during these times that my mom would write little notes to her mom sharing the details of her days – things she did in school, play time with her friend Dale. My mom also wrote to her beloved grandmother, Granny, to tell her how much she loved her and missed spending time with her. Granny was often the one who cared Edna (her oldest daughter) while she was ill, and clearly, it was very difficult for my mom as a little girl to be separated from both her mother and grandmother. Judging by the fact that Edna kept many of these little notes, I’m guessing that she knew this. I’m guessing it was a difficult time for her as well.
My mom was 19 when she lost her mother.
Today, as I reflect on that Sunday afternoon with my mom, what stands out to me the most is that this wasn’t just the two of us walking down memory lane together. Rather, …what I witnessed was a direct, physical connection between my mom and her mother. Whether she did it knowingly or not, through the things that she had made and the mementos that she kept, Edna left a piece of herself behind. And I believe that by saving these things, my mom is keeping her memory alive.
As a memory keeper myself, this speaks to me on a profound level. Because this isn’t just about preserving Edna’s memory…it’s telling Edna’s story. It’s telling my mom’s story. And their story is my story. Their story is deeply embedded in the very core of who I am. Their story is permanently woven into the fabric of my life.
Looking at memory keeping this way makes me proud of the photo albums I have made and the stories that I have told. It makes me happy to know that I am leaving a piece of myself behind, and that one day (hopefully many, many years from now) Kelsey might find comfort and solace in them.
Finally, whenever I reflect upon Edna’s life, I can’t help but think about how terrible it must have been for my mom to lose her mother at such a young age. It was a very dark time for her – giving birth to me then burying her mother two weeks later. I can’t imagine how hard it would have been not having her mother to help her navigate marriage and motherhood and all the of everyday trials of life. Not having that security of knowing her mom is always there for her…like I do.
As we celebrate Mother’s Day today, I am so very thankful to be able to share this day with my mom. So grateful for her strength and courage and love and support.