When you hear the phrase “family treasures”, you may think of old, heavily embossed silver, or of Grandma’s gold and pearl earrings. Maybe your first thought is of an ivory satin wedding gown, a set of damask napkins worn through at the fold, or a faded photograph of Great-Grandpa with handlebar mustache and funny, long-outdated clothes.
Whether any of these, or other such relics, lie carefully tended on a shelf, or in a trunk in the attic, we must not neglect the richest treasures of all. They are our family stories. These unique anecdotes, whether handed down the generations or recounting a funny or touching incident of yesterday, entertain us, to be sure, but they do more. They reflect us and define us both in themselves and in our conscious or unconscious choice of what to remember and retell.
In my family, the tale is often told of Great-Grandma’s stern insistence that her husband enlist in the Confederate Army. “But, Sarah,” he is reported to have said, “I don’t believe in secession”; to which she replied, “Now, Elijah, no man in my family ever refused to fight for his home!” He went, and she ran their farm singlehanded for the duration of the war. She, and by extension all the women of the family, are thus portrayed as stubborn and independent. Many of us are just that!
And that we are not religiously observant the story of our own four-year-old daughter’s first day in Sunday school exemplifies: upon her return from that first session we asked her what she had learned. She answered, “There is somebody up there who takes care of us, and I forget his name but I think it’s Bob.” A generation later we still speak of Bob at times.
What we find funny, poignant, or valuable in some other way, is and should be preserved. Unlike the earrings, the gown or the photograph, which incidentally carry stories themselves, we don’t do this by packing away in cotton, mothballs or acid-free paper. We tell the stories, and tell them again, and they bind us securely to one another over space and through time.