When we are younger, each milestone in our lives holds monumental importance. We gather keepsakes: a movie ticket stub from that first important date, a snapshot of where you met. Your wedding gown, those tiny baby booties, your child’s first preschool crayon art rendering.

Over time, these treasures start to overtake our attics.

When I moved out of the house where I raised our family, I unearthed boxes and boxes filled with keepsakes marking each of these life events. I hadn’t looked at them in years and had no real desire to continue squirreling them away. They were important then, but not as much now.

We asked our children, then grown and living their own lives, if they wanted the mementos that directly related the them. They said, “Sorry, Mom, but no. We have too many boxes of our own stuff.”

Trinkets of time-stamped history mean something to us when the memories are new. But not so much as time marches on.

So, what will my children or grandchildren, my nieces and nephews, really want when the day arrives that they discover we are no longer in their lives? Certainly, not their own baby booties or the first crayon masterpiece.

No, what they will want is something that reminds them, or informs them, about you.

I am going to ask you to think selfishly for a few moments here and to realize that for future generations of your family, preserving memories of you is what will matter. This doesn’t have to comprise a memoir. Photos are wonderful, but they don’t tell the whole story. Diaries sometimes reveal too much.

What Do You Want Your Progeny to Remember About You?

There are lots of things about me my kids don’t know, or know but don’t really think about – elements of my personality that make up the me they know. But these aren’t important to them now, because I’m still here with them.

What about in the future? How will they describe me to their own children and grandchildren? What can I leave behind to help them remember?

I Will Fill a Memory Box with the Essence of Me

I’d never understood this concept until I came across a wonderful book called Missing Lucile by Suzanne Berne. I highly recommend this insightful memoir.

The book describes one woman’s quest to learn more about the grandmother she never knew. In her case, even Berne’s father couldn’t tell her much about the woman, since she died when he was only six years old.

Decades later, after her father passed, Ms. Berne embarked on a mission to recreate the life of this woman, a part of her own history. In her own words, she describes the project of mining family history as an effort “to explain what is essentially inexplicable – how we came to be ourselves.”

All Ms. Berne had to go on was a handful of vintage photographs and a few keepsake trinkets – the essence of her grandmother distilled into a small fruitcake tin. But oh, how these seemingly random items spun a story.

In Missing Lucile, the author lists the items inside the small memory tin. They include a diary from Lucile’s first year at college, some letters written in French, some negatives, some snapshots and a silver charm bracelet. Berne refers to these as “snips of historical DNA.”

Berne discovers her grandmother grew up in a wealthy family, evidenced by snapshots of the child garbed in fine dresses and cuddling a white rabbit muff (an expensive luxury of her day). Although pampered, Lucile appeared to be a somber child, appearing unsmiling in multiple faded photographs.

She surmises that Lucile grew into a fine young woman, as she received a prestigious education at Wellesley University, and became fluent in French. Also a philanthropic soul, she spent years working abroad in the WWII relief effort.

By the end of her narrative, Berne has a pretty good idea of the kind of woman her grandmother was, right down to the fact that she enjoyed tennis – from the tennis bracket charm on the bracelet.

Ms. Berne had never learned anything about her grandmother from her father, since his memories were those of a six-year-old child. She was, however, able to formulate a personality portrait of a woman who died many, many years before she was even born from a few, carefully chosen trinkets that fit into a fruitcake tin.

A Gift for Future Generations

When we are children, history means very little to us: We are too busy looking toward the future. But as we get older, in order to understand ourselves, we should look back.

How precious it must have been for Ms. Berne to discover this distillation of her grandmother’s life, to get to know her. We can do the same for future generations of our own family.

It doesn’t have to be fruitcake tin (does anyone really eat fruitcake?). Memory boxes come in many shapes and sizes, constructed from a multitude of different materials. Choose one that’s meaningful to you. It can be as small as a fruitcake tin or as large as a cedar chest, depending on what items you want to put inside.

Just remember – what you are really doing is constructing a time capsule, a collection of small, significant items that will tell future generations about who you are, as a person. What things are important to you. Your passions, your secret dreams and aspirations.

What Would Be in Your Memory Box?

My ideal memory box will be a replica of something from the Middle Ages, since I am obsessed with this period of history (maybe something like this). What to put inside? Well, instead of piles of faded photos, maybe I’ll choose just a few that mark precious moments of my life.

I’ve never been a fan of charm bracelets as jewelry. But now I’m thinking this might be the perfect addition – not to wear, but to accessorize with charms that tell a story about me, my life and my dreams.

I am an equestrienne who has ridden horses all my life. Certainly, a horse charm is in order. My passion is writing, romances and supernatural suspense – I’ve already collected charms of a haunted house and a ghost.

A heart, an open book and a feather pen may be my next additions. The charms need not be sterling silver. This company has a fabulous assortment of charms that are very nice quality and are very inexpensive.

The best part is, these trinkets are small and fun to collect. And as your life experiences broaden to encompass new “moments,” you can add to the bracelet – you might even fill several! Just think: You can document an entire trip to Paris with a charm of the Eiffel Tower.

Have I lived a charmed life? I believe I have. The charm bracelet will be the first item I will place into my memory box. What will go into yours?

What items would you put in a memory box? How would you distill your personality, your essence, for future generations? Please share and join the conversation!

Let's Have a Conversation!