A Voice From the Dust: Preserving Your Kids’ Humble Offerings

Last month, the The New York Times set its sights on children’s artwork, publishing two articles on sorting out the stuff your kids bring home—”I Love Throwing My Kids’ Artwork in the Garbage While They’re Sleeping” and “How to Keep Kids’ Art From Cluttering Up Your Home“—on the same day. I’m not sure what was in the air that April day that prompted the news powerhouse to devote two parenting features to the same topic, but I’m sure that most adults who care for children can relate to the problem of dealing with the things they bring home or make. My daughter’s artistic output hasn’t been nearly as prodigious since learning how to read, but for a while the preschool was asking us to bring in more paper since it was our kid who was using most of it.

Despite the volume, I’ve never been especially dogmatic about throwing her creative output away. I keep an eye on things and set the interesting works of art aside, date and describe them (if it’s not obvious) on the back and eventually scan them. This approach has already come in handy. We recently redecorated the bedroom, and one of the originals I had up on the wall suffered water damage. Our daughter was heartbroken, but I was able to print the scanned version and all was well again.

I guess I take after my parents, who also didn’t throw all of my humble offerings away. Regular readers will recall that my mother and father are dead now, and the old homestead is getting ready to be put up on the market. So this past spring I collected the last remaining papers, pictures and photos that my parents had seen fit to keep and brought them home. It turns out my mom kept all of my correspondence, including some letters that I’m embarrassed to read more than twenty years later. But there were also some pearls of great price in the collection. One of the most meaningful is this:

The penmanship is terrible for my age (not telling!) and the content doesn’t exactly plumb the depths of the human condition. What makes it special to me now, however, are the notes my dad added to the envelope in which I had delivered the note to my mom:

We are given memories so we can have June roses in the December of our lives. Scottish poet Barry. Joplin Ward 17 Jun 84

It turns out that the poet’s name is actually spelled Barrie, and the quotation is a paraphrase (and it seems that President Monson was fond of it too). But the date and place recalled the epic road trips we used to take from California to visit friends and relatives in the Midwest and beyond during summer vacation. We would pack up the Ford Fairmont and camp our way at KOAs across the United States, guided by a paper AAA TripTik and braving blistering heat, tornado warnings and chiggers and ticks. (And it shows that we were the kind of Mormons that went to church on vacation, even when the family friends we were visiting in Joplin were not Mormons.)

Most importantly though, the letter shows that the Scottish poet and my dad were right—memories do cheer the soul in bleak times. I’m glad my parents preserved this one; even years after their deaths it helps time and space collapse a little, and I feel like they are not so far away after all.

Do you have any particular approach to preserving your family’s memories?


  1. Kevin Barney says:

    When I was young scanning wasn’t a thing, so that obviously wasn’t an option. One example that comes to mind: my intention on my mission was to save all the letters friends and family sent me, and so from time to time I would send a box of them home. But when I got home and saw the huge stack of those boxes in the garage, I realized saving them would be totally impractical. I saved a small handful of representative samples and threw the rest away.

  2. MIchael H says:

    My parents kept boxes of our childhood pictures, schoolwork, and more; a couple years back, I sat down with my mother and we went through the boxes, selecting a subset for preservation. We found that there were many things we didn’t remember at all, but some continued to have special meaning; we kept those.

    The tougher decisions will come when we have to go through my high school awards: they’re bulkier, at once harder to store and harder to dispose of.

  3. A woman I know kept and made copies of their family’s Christmas letters each year. She collected them into a book of sorts to give to each child as they “graduated” into adulthood – around 20 years of stories for each child.

    Another woman I know had a large, multi-photo frame. It held about 20 photos. Each December she would pick 20 photos from the year to display for the following year. The photos from the previous year would be added to a family photo album.

    Finally, I know folks who use Instagram and get chatbooks printed automatically.

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