Keepsakes are like mitochondrial DNA, passed down from mother to daughter. In my grandmother's case, she inherited her mother's keepsakes, collected a mighty number of them herself, and kindly preserved a few of my mother's. When, in her last few years she began a project to create scrapbooks for her sisters, her remaining brother, nieces and nephews, and her grandchildren, I remember being confused about why I was angry with her over this magnanimous gesture. I still don't know if I was mad that she was giving our family history away or if I knew that she was disposing of an excess of memorabilia because she was nearing the end of her life. I shouldn't have worried about all the stuff she gave away. Lord knows there were plenty of photos, clippings, and keepsakes to go around, with plenty left over for me. In fact, they have been in two big storage bins that I have lugged around with me to the 7 or 8 houses I have lived in since my grandmother died in 1992.
I kept thinking I would go through them, but I just never got around to it. This weekend was it. It started out as a hunt for Big Mom's little I AM book, but it became a whole afternoon of laughter and tears.
- The original clipping from the Tulsa World that declared my dad and his brother as the first twins born in Tulsa in 1928
- My grandmother's original application for teacher's retirement when it went into effect in 1942. It listed every teaching job she had had up until then, including how much she was paid. Her first teaching job in 1915-16 was in Owasso, and she was paid $250 for 5 months of work.
- A short sketch she had written, describing what she and grandpa wore at their wedding and what their first years together were like.
- Newspaper and magazine articles about her innovative teaching techniques, including having her class measure 1 acre on the school grounds and re-enact the Land Run
- A map she had drawn from memory of West Liberty, KY, and the surrounding area, including the names of residents that she remembered from her childhood. On a few sheets of old stationery she had listed all the residents of Red Fork that she could remember from the years when the Castle family first lived there.
- Postcards, letters, and greeting cards from as far back as the 1930s. Letters from her aunts Emma and Retta Lee in California backed up what I thought to be true--that they were the original I AM members and had encouraged their sister Florida to join the group.
- A list of my grandfather's kind gestures and funny sayings that my grandmother had written down after he passed away. I had forgotten that he was always looking for his "goood hat."
- The tag from my brother's hospital crib that read "Smith boy"
- A note that my mother wrote to her mother when she was still in the hospital after giving birth to me. I don't know why my dad's mother had this little note, but it meant a lot to me to get this glimpse of my early days with my mother. I was breast feeding just fine, thank you very much, and was gaining weight every day. Story of my life.
I could go on and on. It was amazing how much I found that would have enhanced the blog posts I've written this year, not to mention my vacation to West Liberty. I knew there was a clipping from the paper about the twins' birth but I hadn't seen it in years. When my brother worked at the Tulsa Public Schools' Service Center, I asked him to look up Mom's teaching records but they don't keep them. In my own garage I had the information I was looking for, and I didn't know it. Just a couple of weeks ago I wrote that I didn't know what my grandmother wore at her wedding, and I possessed a description of her dress in her own handwriting! It just goes to show that the suggestion from veteran genealogists about searching for records in your own home is true. I don't think I found any new genealogical information, but if I didn't know anything, these two bins of memorabilia would be a gold mine.
The Free Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines a keepsake as "something that you keep to help you remember a person, place, or event." My grandmother's keepsakes certainly were meant to do that.