My Life | The Things we Keep

Last November, I was raking leaves outside my home when I spotted something small and shiny on the ground. There lay a tiny silver platter, part of a silver set my grandmother had given me when I was 8, perfect for Barbie tea parties staged inside the dollhouse my grandfather built for me. Two tiny goblets and a serving tray also lay hidden among the leaves.

They were pieces I had stored in a curio cabinet in my family’s home in Munster, Ind. – until the house was flooded a few months before. Now, all that remained of the silver set were these few pieces lying on the ground.

We lost more than half our possessions. But the losses that caused us the most grief were the irreplaceable things, many of which related to our children: All of my son’s report cards; videos taken when my daughter was a newborn; a trophy from the year my husband coached Sam’s baseball team; a framed watercolor Sam had painted in first grade that meant more to me than any work of art.

How do you reconcile the loss of something whose value can only be measured by the heart? What do you do when the mementos you kept from your son or daughter’s childhood are suddenly gone, with no way to replace them?

The experience taught us to think more carefully about where we store the keepsakes we know our children will want to look at again someday.

Now, we keep report cards in a metal box on the highest level of the house. We store copies of photos digitally on a Web site in case our photo albums become damaged (by weather or by a child anxious to experiment with a crayon). I keep an online journal where I write about our children’s milestones and the moments that make us laugh or cringe, so we’ll be able to look back and marvel at how they’ve changed.

We treasure the keepsakes that did survive the flood and focus on what we have, rather than what we’ve lost.

And sometimes, there are surprises that make us smile.

Recently, we were moving items from storage back into our home when I stumbled upon a clothing box with the word “kindergarten” written on it in marker. Inside were treasures from Sam’s kindergarten year: the first story he “wrote and illustrated (“The raptor just ate him and he made blood,” one of the pages reads); a paper stocking with his Christmas list written on it (“Harry Potter wand, one G.I. Joe, one pack of gum”); a drawing illustrating the most important rule he learned about riding the school bus (“No pushing out the window”); Sam’s class picture, his face joyous, eager.

I might not have his elementary school report cards to remind me what those first years of school were like for my son. But these mementos remind me of the little boy he once was – and make me smile at the thought of the man he’ll become.

Jeni Williams is writer and a mom of three.

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