Keepsakes, History and Knowing Where I Come From

It was a ‘girls day’ in every way. I spent Saturday with my daughters, a niece, my sisters and my mom. My sisters and I shoe shopped and ate lunch while my mom and her grand-daughters went swimming and to the grocery store and had wieners and beans for lunch.

Grandma with 3 granddaughters. (not shown, 2 granddaughters and 5 grandsons)


In the afternoon, we hauled up the remaining boxes and tubs of my Grandmothers keepsakes; costume jewellery, a box of linens, several containers with assorted glassware and dishes and a dozen photo albums filled with every greeting card she’d ever been given – for birthdays, anniversaries, and special occasions, including funerals.

She was a keeper, in every sense of the word, and hung onto things that some consider meaningless trash. Her jewellery box was a collection of broken pieces, pins and flashy clip on earrings and broaches with missing gems – but we dug through it like lost treasure, and giggled while we took turns trying on matching sets of vintage bling.

We honoured Grandma on the front lawn at my mom’s house, among the flowers and invited her to join us in spirit as we read the cards and pulled apart the albums to be recycled. We admired countless stitches in linens, and hankies and doilies and card table tablecloths. And we baked in the May sun, laughing and feeling and loving Grandma.

IMG_4533The emotions that wax and wane leave me exhausted. As we sifted through piles of past lives, we bubbled over in appreciation and gratitude, sadness, grief, longing and eternal love. Although I feel surrounded by those who’ve loved and left us, there is an indisputable void felt, even all these years later.

My sister Leah has assumed Grandma’s role as genealogist. She is keeper of who we are linked to, our genetic code and where we came from – on both sides, maternal and paternal. She is working to fill in the holes – which 10 years ago would have been impossible. But, thanks to the magic of the internet and the world-wide database of information and photographs and documentation, knowing exactly “where you came from” is totally possible.

It was important to my mom to do this for her mom; to take all of these meaningful items from Alice Mary’s life, hold them, acknowledge them and then give them rest. She hasn’t been able to bear the thought of just trashing stuff that her mom worked to preserve. Minimalists will never understand it, but that was just who our Grandma was.

My dad holding his three girls. He was probably 22 in this picture.

Although we teased her for her “hoarding” and her camera always being thrust into your face for pictures, her photo albums are a precious gift. She documented E.V.E.R.Y.T.H.I.N.G. Birthdays, school events, travels, flowers delivered, meals, births and all that occurred in between. She included dates and relevant notes handwritten on scraps of paper and pinned to fabric or taped to pictures when she thought it might matter to someone in the future. “This tablecloth was stitched and sent to Otto’s homestead (in Kindersley, Saskatchewan by his sister Karin (still in Sweden) in 1909.”

Our children pore over those photographs and laugh and point. They find themselves in the pictures – they see and understand who they are and feel deeply connected to their roots. In a world of isolation and connectivity (online) and loneliness – knowing exactly who you belong to and who loved you from the day you were born – and being able to see that documented with your very own eyes is a rare and precious gift. And we are so grateful to Grandma for that.

Lydia wearing her Great-Great-Great Grandmother Knowles hair clip.

I am always proud of my mom but my appreciation of her grew this weekend as I watched her detach from being ‘guardian of the stuff.’ She allowed everyone to touch and explore the leftover remnants of Grandma’s keepsakes, holding each piece, celebrating the connection, and finding little treasured heirlooms they could cling to.

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Great-Great-Great Grandparents with her hair clip.

And my mom was grateful to have support to do this job. She didn’t want to store all the boxes in the basement and leave the task for someone else in 20 years. She wanted to clean it up, thank it, acknowledge it and then let it go. My mom is so fucking cool like that.

But I know she was happy to have us there, to hold the responsibility of saying thanks and good bye to the things that once meant so much to someone else. My older sister made a pile of sacred items to be transmuted and ‘sent up’ with love and prayers in a Viking funeral; things she thought deserved extra special treatment.

I am blessed beyond measure. My genetic code is tough and tender, intelligent and compassionate, socialist and pragmatic, loyal and welcoming. My history is celebrated and my blood line is cherished and my family is beautiful. I am so grateful.

Me, Jenna, Mom, Leah – May 28, 2016

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