The vendor behind the table watches me sort through the memorabilia in the shoe box. “Ten cents per photograph or I’ll sell you the entire box for $20,” he offers. I study the pictures. A family marking life’s milestones with photographs of baby pictures, graduations and weddings. Another box with post cards from long-ago vacations and a scrapbook crammed with recital programs and tickets stubs.
How did this happen? A family’s history, up for sale, reduced to two shoe boxes and a scrapbook at an antique fair in the middle of a hot dusty parking lot.
The merchandise on that vendor’s table may soon be studied as fossils from a pre-Google era. Now our photographs reside inside our iPhones, treasures scanned onto flash drives, lives immortalized on Facebook. Instead of buried in our basements, our histories are uploaded to the Cloud.
I’m old school, belonging to a generation that still likes to hold things in our hands. Our basement remains the repository for many of the keepsakes that define my family’s past. Stored with care in containers from a company that guarantees a museum quality, acid-free product that will preserve its contents into infinity. I can only hope a diligent caretaker will follow my footsteps with a passion and flair for keeping the past alive.
I don my archeologist’s cap and dig deep into one of the containers, finding my mother’s high school diploma, South Hills High, go class of ’34! And a picture of my grandmother looking stylish on Brookline Boulevard across the street from the Blue Bonnet Bakery. A menu dated 1952 from Hackney’s on the boardwalk in Atlantic City; their Lobster Platter priced at $4.50. An entry by an admirer in my Aunt Tillie’s autograph book, “When you get married and live over the hill. You can send me a kiss by whippoorwill.” A couplet of poetry.
If my house caught on fire and I had time to grab only one box, it would be the one labeled “Mail” with correspondences stretching across the decades in envelopes with faded stamps.
My husband is now entering his fourth decade practicing medicine, so it is hard to remember he was once a fledgling medical student trying to keep awake during biochemistry lectures. I fell in love with his handmade valentine illustrated with an anatomically correct heart. His thoughtfulness and good humor recorded for posterity. A foreshadowing of our life together.
I was thinking about what a shame it was to keep these treasures stored away in a closet, out of sight, out of mind, when I had one of those “aha” moments that descend from the heavens on the luckiest of days. What if there were a way to transfer my family’s memorabilia onto pieces of fabric and incorporate them into a magnificent quilt? Joseph had his Coat of Many Colors. I could have a Quilt of Many Keepsakes.
Thus the excavation began. A journey through time. I spent months studying every item asking myself, “Quilt-worthy or not?”
Toby at B3 Marketing in Wilmerding and the good people at spoonflower.com were instrumental in the transfer process. Pittsburgh’s quilt artist extraordinaire, Louise Silk, was on board from the beginning. They nursed the project along, and my memories became a living, breathing thing.
Our daughter’s Bat Mitzvah invitation intermingles with her grandparent’s wedding announcement. A 1947 newspaper article about my family’s new electrical supply business meets and greets an advertisement celebrating the business’ 50th anniversary. My mother’s matzo ball soup recipe makes my mouth water as I remember the aromas emanating from my childhood kitchen.
A copy of a thank you note I wrote to Bobbie, a clerk at the Mt. Lebanon Post Office, who always showed her customers “grace, good humor and kindness.” A People’s Choice Award certificate from Storyteller Magazine where one of my first essays was published. My third-grade report card marking the first and last time I got straight A’s. “Plays well with others” comments my favorite grade-school teacher, Mrs. Harrison. I still do.
My father pens a letter in anticipation of his honeymoon, “We will be stepping on a train east bound, the start of travel through a life time of happiness.” I place his letter next to the tribute my son gave at last year’s family reunion on the occasion of my brother’s 75th birthday. Where have the years gone? They are all here, living harmoniously on my quilt.
I am reminded of Paul Simon’s lyrics:
Time it was and what a time it was
It was a time of innocence, a time of confidences
Long ago it must be, I have a photograph
Preserve your memories, they’re all that’s left you.
From conception to birth, the gestation period for this quilt was 13 months. I put my heart and soul into it. When it was done, my husband asked me if I would suffer from postpartum quilt depression.
I tell him no, I am happy to have it done. Happy to sit on top of it with my granddaughter watching a Curious George cartoon as her fingertips trace the threads that hold it together. Happy to sleep underneath a sea of words at night. The voices from the past are the memories that dreams are built on. I am grateful to all who have come before, and all who are with me now. They are the fabric of my life.
Debby Glick is a writer living in Mt. Lebanon (firstname.lastname@example.org).