The Family Archives

Taking Stock of the Loot

I do not envy my children when I die. The minute they see all those boxes marked "Family Archives” that are stacked up in the storage room, it's a good thing I'll already be dead because they're going to want to kill me!

In my defense, the "Family Archives” were not entirely accumulated by me. I inherited a lot of this stuff from my Dad. You know how every family always has one member who manages to walk away with a little more than his share of the family treasures? Well my Dad was that person. Thanks to him, there's also a lot of loot from my Mother's side as well. Don't get me wrong – I'm not saying he had sticky fingers. He just always seemed to be conveniently handy when the goods were up for grabs.

Daddy was also a keeper of weird little odds and ends too, which means that because I somehow ended up with the Family Archives after he died, I now find myself in possession of such random objects as a pair of spurs, my grandmother's college yearbook, the "Do Not Disturb” sign that hung on my parents' honeymoon doorknob, three sets of dentures, Bette Davis' autograph, snapshots numbering in the thousands, a 1964 map of Disneyland and Uncle Tom's curls. It is that last item that causes me to fear the worst for the Family Archives after I'm gone.

Uncle Tom, you see, was my maternal grandmother's older brother. He was born in 1893, and as a tot he had the kind of long golden ringlets that would have made Shirley Temple jealous. His mother was so proud of them that she not only had his portrait made just prior to his first haircut; she carefully preserved those curls for all of posterity. The fact that Tom died young only served to elevate the status of those lovely locks from childhood memento to full-on sacred possession.

When I was a little girl, sometimes my grandmother would take down a small matchbox from its hallowed place on the top shelf of her closet. Then she'd carefully slide back the cover, and together we'd admire the contents as she told me all about the funny things Tom used to do. I can see her now, gently stroking those curls with her finger as if they were still framing her brother's cherubic face. I wouldn't take anything for the memory of that sweet time with her. Nor would I take anything for this little keepsake.

But what about my kids? Years from now when they're digging through all my junk, what will they think when they open this matchbox? If I know my daughter she'll take one look and shriek, "Gross! It's a box of hair!” I suppose I could soften the blow by enclosing a copy of Uncle Tom's childhood portrait, along with an explanation of who he was, and how his mother felt about his beautiful tresses, but I doubt it would do much good. After all, my children didn't know this guy. Why on earth would they want a 120-year-old sample of his DNA?

Of course for that matter, why would they want 90% of what's in the Family Archives? It certainly doesn't have any monetary value. (Let's face it, there's not exactly a huge market on EBay for a newspaper clipping from 1959, heralding the grand opening of the new A&P in Clyde, Texas.)

What makes the contents of those boxes so special to me is their connection to people who were special to me – even the ones who were gone long before I was born. In a lot of ways it's sort of like I've been entrusted by my ancestors to watch over their beloved treasures – their scrapbooks and their Cradle Roll certificates; their homemade potholders and their faded postcards; their piano recital programs, and even their little bovine refrigerator magnet that says, "Holy Cow! You eating AGAIN?”

For more than twenty years I have served as guardian of the Family Archives, dutifully and fiercely defending them against the ravages of time, the threat of fire and theft, and the onslaught of mold and mealy bugs. What I'm completely helpless to protect them from is the apathy of future generations.

They say after Grandma dies, it's a common thing for her children to fight over who is going to inherit her stuff. The same will be true when I kick the bucket – only my kids will be fighting over who doesn't get stuck with mine!

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