No one, friend or foe, has ever called me a crafts person.
As a little girl, I did make potholders on a handloom by threading colorful cotton loops over and under and crocheting the edges. This was a regular pastime as I rode the Greyhound to visit my grandparents in Kinston. As a young woman, I took up knitting briefly but obsessively. In just a few days, I knitted an afghan the Dicksons still snuggle under, ignoring the fact that I ran out of yarn so that one end is festooned with a luxurious, deep fringe and the other end is naked as a jay bird. I also knitted my boyfriend, later husband, a sweater of a lovely blue, which matched his eyes but whose sleeves could have accommodated the arms of LeBron James. My sweetie duly wore the thing a time or two, looking like a slender fellow with Michelin Man arms.
That was the end of my crafting career. No scrapbooking. No stained glass making. No hand- thrown pots. No jewelry made out of beads and shells.
This summer I am breaking my long-running craft boycott.
As a gift to the Precious Jewels, I am sorting through and organizing thousands of family photographs and documents so that they, their children and their children’s children will have some sense of where we all came from and why we are who we are. My maternal grandmother put together a notebook of that side of our family nearly 50 years ago, but my knowledge is sketchier about my father’s family and certainly about my husband’s kin. But I will pass along what I do know, and even though the Precious Jewels are not especially interested at this point in their lives, I am confident they will be later.
Overwhelming is the only word I can think of to describe this process, but I am also learning that I am far from alone in diving into this task. The internet is full of “how-tos” about dealing with mountains of family material, including “ethical wills,” documents that attempt to pass ethical values down to new generations and directions about writing family narratives. The thinking goes that it is much easier to understand the personal stories of immigrant ancestors, Jane and Joe Dickson perhaps, arriving at Ellis Island and becoming Americans than it is to memorize the history of Europeans coming to our shores.
Among the helpful hints I have found that resonate with me are some by Ann Brenoff in The Huffington Post. They make perfect sense, and we are likely to have most of these items. Among Brenoff’s recommendations is your first passport. This is a real conversation starter, as in, “Mom, I had no idea you went on a Mediterranean cruise when you were 15!”
How about your military discharge papers. I do not have any of these myself, but I would love to have my father’s to share. He served as a medic in Europe during World War II, including during the D-Day invasion of France. So few of his generation remain, and these papers would feel like a voice from a different time.
I do have many pictures of my wedding to the Precious Jewels’ father, and they have seen some but not all of them. I plan to make sure they see others, so they will know their dad and I were once their age and—dare I say it? — fun!
Brenoff also suggests something that belonged to the oldest relative your children know. My aunt died earlier this year at 90, and they knew her well and loved her. Memories of her and the tangible gifts she made over the years will keep her alive in their hearts.
How about a sentimental piece of jewelry? It does not have to be a 10-carat diamond. My mother’s childhood friendship bracelet has been turned into a pair of earrings, and those who wear them in the years to come will know who first wore those itty-bitty blue stones. Ditto for some monogrammed gold cuff links of my grandfather’s, who died before I was born.
I do not have one of these but wish I did — a receipt with a date on it showing that a gallon of milk really did cost $1.50 and a nice car could be had for less than $10,000. These fall into the “you’ve got to be kidding” category.
A picture of the first time you held your Precious Jewel. Got those, thank goodness, including some discreet delivery room hugs and kisses after all the action was over.
Brenoff has more suggestions. Childhood report cards, especially if teachers commented on them. Those are generally good for a laugh. Tags worn by childhood pets are guaranteed to bring back memories, maybe even a tear or two.
And, maybe best of all, your favorite music — think oldies! — recorded on a platform they can use. Think iTunes, not cassettes, or — heaven forbid! — 8-track tapes!
I know. I know.
This is to be a huge effort.
But what else is more worthwhile during the heat of July?