Ancient History

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The curator

My home is a museum. Admission is free, please touch the stuff, flash photography is allowed, you may eat in the exhibit halls, the bathrooms are located near the garage and at the top of the stairs. Parking is limited, however. If you break it, I’ll get the glue out. If you want to take it, let me wrap it up for you in Glad PressNSeal. If you think anything is valuable, you are delusional.

Late at night, when the exhibits sit in the dark and the volunteers are dreaming, I hear the echoes from the day rattling around. I gather them together and consider what shelves to place them upon. I categorize and analyze and commit them to memory. I am the curator.

“Tell us funny stories about when we were little!” my little ones like to ask.

“Tell us about the time we drove to California. Show us pictures of our first birthday parties. Tell us, show us, mommy.”

How priviliged I am at those moments. The kids may have been too young for memories, so I must fill in the blank spaces. In essence, I build their childhood memories when I tell the stories of their lives. I show them objects, toys, books from pre-memory. They hold these things dear—a teddy bear from newborn days or a dress from my daughter’s first Easter.

Facts and artifacts. The fact is Sam didn’t walk until he was almost 17 months. He loves to hear how he didn’t want to walk because he was such an amazing crawler. The fact is Ryley had two surgeries and a hospitalization for an illness all before he was two. He takes in the stories and learns what he went through as a little guy. He must be strong! He must be brave! I don’t know what he takes away from the stories, exactly, but he likes to hear them. The fact is Aidan began collecting birthday girl figurines on her first birthday. She has them lined up on a hutch in her room. She sees them daily. Fact and artifact collide—tell me about when I turned two, mommy—she asks while holding the figurine in her palm. Joel will have the cast from his broken arm. Tommy will have a mile-high stack of drawings to sort through and admire some day.

When my grandmothers died in December, I watched each of my parents go through some of the things their mothers collected. The objects that meant the most weren’t the most valuable, the oldest, the prettiest. A certain picture, a brooch, a carved bowl, a baking dish, a clock—everything infused with meaning and memory beyond my comprehension. So I ask:

Dad, tell me about the clock and grandma and what made you tuck it under your arm the way you did when you left her house. What do you think about when you hear it’s ticking early in the morning?

Mom, tell me about that ring around your finger. I saw it on grandma, too. Where did she get it? What do you think about when you look down at your finger?

Show me. Can I hold it? I won’t break it. Tell me. Wow, that’s amazing. That’s funny. That makes me want to cry.

There was never a velvet rope in my childhood, or now.

I hope I never put one up in my own home.

11 comments to The curator

  • Wonderful post. Sounds like there’s lots of precious stuff in your museum!


  • Exactly the things memories are made of and they are cherished all the more when relived frequently.

  • I followed you here from the hot discussion at EM. Just wanted to tell you I appreciated your persepctive! Thanks!

  • That was beautifully written and expressed!
    My 13 year old son still has Autumn leaves he collected on his last walk around the lake with my mum (his Nanna) when he was 6. She passed away a couple of months later. I didn’t even know he had kept them until a few years later when an older friend was helping him clean up his room and went to throw it out.
    Memories are so precious to make and to keep!

  • I think that when my kids are grown and gone, the scratches on the table and the stains on the carpets will actually become great memories! Until then, I try to relax and enjoy and let people really LIVE in my house!

  • This is beautiful. And such a great reminder to me that I’m creating the memories my children will have when they’re old. Thank you.

  • Again, such a beautiful post. I know what you mean about wanting to know the stories behind your grandparents’ “museam.” My grandparents were not much for preserving the family history, but my mother has made such an effort to do so for me. I hope I also do the same for my children.

    Gorgeous, Mopsy. Gorgeous. If you aren’t already a professional writer, you should be.

  • Mahthellin

    Ah, posts like this are why I lurk your blog.

    One of my favorite curated possessions rests above the big window in my breakfast room.

    My brother and I had completed the painful and surreal task of cleaning out my parents’ home, sorting to keep or sell as best we could. As we walked through the garage toward his car for the last time, on impulse, I snatched the small black metal plate atop a pile of discarded items. It reads:
    J L Richie
    103 Sweetbrier Rd.

    For years that piece of metal had rested on top of my parents’ mailbox, unimportant, replaceable, and now suddenly and unexplainably precious.

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