``I firmly believe that women are the chief repositors of our culture,'' says Cynthia Lynch, a mother of five in Hingham, Mass. ``We still do most of the homemaking and child care,'' she says, ``and pass along the things that are unique to our culture and our families.'' We need to take steps to preserve them, she believes. Keeping track of the family's memories -- everything from the names of great-grandparents to the silly thing your husband told you last New Year's -- is a project many families enjoy. It's one concrete way to keep their heritage alive and their family roots well watered.
``I can remember a lot of the funny things my children did just because I wrote them down,'' says Betsy Hodges, a mother of three in Waldorf, Md. She keeps a journal handy in her home for jotting down the stories as they happen, but admits she's not always that organized. ``I have one note written on a paper napkin of an incident that happened at a McDonald's,'' she says. ``I just stuck it, as is, into the journal.''
Keeping track of the goofy, tender, funny, and dramatic events in a family's life can take many forms. Some families, like those of Mrs. Hodges and Mrs. Lynch, keep what Mrs. Lynch calls a ``joke book'' to write them down. ``The kids love to read this at least once a month,'' she says, ``and I try to add to it every week.''
Others set out the story in a more visual way. Most families have a family photo album -- everything from a shoe box full of photos collected over the years to an elaborate notebook arranged to tell the family's history. Mrs. Lynch's album, which she works on at least once a month, contains a running narrative of family life with photos picked to illustrate its choicer moments.
Others take this visual approach and apply it to a craft -- a family quilt, embroidered and appliqu'ed to show important moments in each family member's life, for example. ``This is based on the old `friendship quilt' idea,'' says a spokeswoman for Nelly's Needlers, a group supporting Woodlawn Plantation. ``Friends would get together to sew a quilt for a bride, and embroider their names onto it somewhere,'' she explains.
Some avid quilters take pleasure in designing a family quilt to include the family's colors, codes, important dates, names, genealogical trees, pictures of homes, and places of significance.
Joan Campbell, a grandmother and potter in Moorestown, N.J., applied this same concept to a tiled table. ``We had four children,'' she explains, ``and they all wound up going in different directions. I wanted a way to illustrate that,'' she says.
She ``mulled it over for a couple of years,'' and then designed the tabletop as a ``family tree, with our parents at the roots, and each of us taking a branch.''
Along the branches she painted on words, dates, and pictures in an underglaze to illustrate places of importance to each of them -- the years they were stationed in Germany, a park in Virginia where her young children used to play, the day one son got his PhD. Around the border she put a series of tiles showing events of interest to all family members -- like the Christmas trees they grew in Michigan and the McDonald's they bought in Moorestown, where family members worked to earn college money.
Some visually preserved memories these days are more high-tech. Using video equipment, families are recording everything from individual interviews (``Tell me the story of your life'') to Thanksgiving Day dinners. Others use the tape recorder to accomplish the same thing, later transcribing the material. One family took photos at such a gathering-of-the-clan meal, recorded roughly 10 minutes of conversation, and put it together into a photo album for a permanent vignette of family life.
``Don't just do photographs, though,'' Mrs. Lynch warns. ``It's too one-sided.'' She suggests that every family has memorabilia they would like to pass along -- ``the silver baby cup, an old sampler.'' She stashes many of these items into ``treasure boxes'' for her children -- large, sturdy cardboard boxes in which only the things worth preserving are kept.
``We have a place the children can put things they might want to keep -- school papers, special pictures -- and about once a year we weed through these and put a few in the treasure box,'' says Mrs. Lynch. ``I also have a notebook with acetate pages set up for very special school papers and awards,'' she says.
Each item that goes into the treasure box has a note with it, telling the story of why that item is important to the family, Mrs. Lynch says.
Her children also keep a journal ``about once a month on a slow Sunday afternoon, when I can sit them all down at the dining-room table.'' The older ones tell something they think is worth preserving (``I tell them to imagine that this is for their great-grandchildren,'' she says), and the younger ones draw a picture and write (``or tell me, and I write it'') the story of the picture. ``I often ask them to draw a picture of a family member -- Mommy, or Grandfather -- and tell me about that person,'' she says.
She also keeps a baby book for each child, which contains the following:
A family genealogy, showing how they fit into the family tree.
A family chart, showing how they relate to all living relatives, including any pictures she can find of relatives taken the year of their birth.
The story of the day they were born.
Religious information (baptism, etc.).
My World -- a picture of the home at the time of birth, a floor plan, a picture or description of the yard, pictures of the park or other familiar neighborhood landmarks, and a synopsis of the year of birth taken from a newspaper.
Firsts -- the first step, the first tooth, and so on.
A synopsis of each year of the child's life -- important events and strides forward.
A note on the child's name -- why it was chosen, what its meaning is.
A copy of the birth announcement.
Janet Dittmer, a mother of four in Vienna, Va., does something similar for her marriage. She keeps a ``courtship album'' for each year of married life, including any tickets to concerts they attended, petals from flowers her husband sent her, little notes they wrote to each other, anniversary and Christmas gift cards, and any letters written when her husband had to travel. ``It's a record of our life together and our love for each other,'' she says.
She also keeps a daily calendar of events -- ``just a record of the things we did, like going to the grocery store, or doing a crafts project. I usually jot a few lines down for each day at the end of the week, so we'll have a record of what daily life was like in the 1980s,'' she says. ``Can you imagine how much fun it would be to have this sort of thing from your grandmother?''
``As our culture changes and becomes more fast-paced and fragmented,'' Mrs. Lynch believes, ``we must consciously and carefully endow our families with a sense of history and heritage.'' Stacking up the evidence like this, she emphasizes, underscores the joy, love, and meaning of a family's life.