My daughter’s infant clothing -- each piece is a moment, a memory: a first step, a first word, a brave march into school without me. B&W photographs of my grandmothers: only a few survive and they surround my mirror so I can look into their eyes every day.
Diaries, wardrobes, photos, books, jewelry. Everything tells a story and I give it a voice. This was the ring my father gave my mother when he proposed: it’s in the shape of a flower (she wanted something non-traditional). The diamond adorned with golden leaves is the bloom of our family, each of us a blossom born of their love.
My family knows to give me photos and objects with meaning. I’m the record keeper.
But... I’m also a keeper of other pasts, other lives. Lives I don’t know. I collect vintage postcards from my travels. It’s intoxicating to delve into the mystery of the casual words and banal details; was the giver really fond of the recipient, or were they just doing their duty?
Coins, buttons, postcards, images: all little time capsules. And it isn’t just the mood, it’s the feel. The tactile experience of engaging with old things provides a balm to the daily rotation of phones and keyboards. Rubbing a thumb over a corner smoothed by generations of handling, your hand just one more in the long lineage of this object’s life. The materials, the colors, the fading of the colors, little tears, the patina -- the way the years show.
There’s a strange negative association with nostalgia -- this idea that living in the past is unhealthy -- but modern research suggests that connecting to the past actually helps to remind us of who we’ve been and who we’ve become. It allows us to better unite those selves. Change is hard, but casting it as an act of inevitability, and using nostalgia to soften the passage of time, helps our brains delineate past and future. It can be bittersweet but ultimately a way to find our most authentic self.
This is both on an individual level -- revisiting our own past -- as well as a generational level. After all, we only exist because the generations before us did. We are the heirs to their memory.
I take that role very seriously.