This I Believe: Parents are the Shepherds of Memories

Ellen - Newton, Massachusetts
Entered on June 26, 2007
Age Group: 50 - 65

I believe that parents are the shepherds of memories. This was something that I first realized when my daughters, Elizabeth and Mollie, were very young and I saw them engaged in precious moments that I knew they would never remember. As they grew, I expanded my belief to see myself as the creator, as well as the keeper, of memories. To this end, I gave my children the gifts of travel, rather than toys and games, believing that they would remember hiking in the Alps or a raft ride in New Mexico long after they had quickly tired of the once-latest electronic game.

Being the creator of memories is often easier than being their keeper. This was brought home to me last weekend when I devoted two days to dismantling my younger daughter’s room. Mollie graduated from college a year ago and promptly moved to an apartment about two miles from our home. At the time I was excited that she had a job, a nice apartment, good friends to live with and so I focused more on where she was going than on what she left behind. This weekend, after one full year of walking by the room that she left behind, I ventured in.

I’m inclined to describe Mollie’s room as a “battle zone,” but there was actually a certain peacefulness about its clutter. Clothes were stuffed everywhere, bookshelves were piled high with books, photo albums and assorted objects such as markers, packs of gum, un-used film, CD’s, gifts in their original packages and boxes of letters. The space under her bed was an all-purpose dumping ground. Overwhelmed, but determined to make some sort of order out of the chaos, I removed everything from the room, dumped it all in a pile in the neighboring “TV” room and started to sort.

My experience, during the many hours that followed, underscored for me that being the shepherd of memories is not exactly a cushy job. Once I had sorted through the piles and piles of clothes and triaged them to destinations ranging from the local cancer society fashion store to the Goodwill Industries truck to my closet, I had to figure out what to do with the various objects that are the stuff of memories. These included the photo of Mollie’s preschool class, the journal of her elementary school writings, her camp autograph books, her high school yearbook, her college diploma and the “Naughty Nineteen, the College Years, Volume One” a collection of the emails that Mollie and her 18 closes high school friends exchanged during their first year of college. Each of these pieces was laden with memories, but it was also compact and fit comfortably in a box that I boldly labeled “Mollie’s Important Things.” Some of the other things did not fit so easily in a box nor could they necessarily qualify for the label “important.” These included two “hardhats,” which Mollie wore when she worked on a construction project at camp, a stuffed animal with the name of her camp on it, the mosquito netted hat from her trip to Thailand, some Thai money and a matzah cover she made in Hebrew School.

Did Mollie have a voice in this search and rescue mission? I phoned her several times over the weekend. Sometimes I called to ask what to do with something, such as her prom dress. Other times, I simply wanted to tell her what I’d come upon and how it brought back memories of a particular time and place. Each phone call brought the same response. Mollie was polite, thanked me for what I was doing, but ultimately conveyed the message that she didn’t care. She had moved on. She was in the middle of a fun-filled weekend. She wasn’t really interested in reminiscing about the Mom’s Weekends we had spent in a tent at her camp.

And so I made the decisions. The music box that Mollie had loved as a child, now broken, went in the trash, Along with it, Mollie’s graduation cap and gown. The flowered hat she’d worn to her sister’s bat mitzvah stayed. It joined other delegates to Mollie’s assembly of memories on a shelf in what was, for 22 years, her closet.

Will Mollie ever come to retrieve her stuff of memories? Might she want to visit them here? I do not know the answer to either question. What I do know is that I ended the weekend with the sense of satisfaction: I had successfully tended to my daughter’s memories. For this I believe, a parent is the shepherd of memories.