Sunday, January 7, 2007

Transferring treasures: Program teaches importance of keeping memories alive

Telegram Staff Writer

The list of our treasures goes on forever, but we don't.
After our funerals, the half-decayed ornament that little Billy made the year he lost his first tooth will become an unidentified mass of goo that finds its final resting-place in a Hefty bag.
But our life's bounty deserves a future.
'These things are part of our heritage,' Ilene Miller said Thursday, Jan. 4, to about 20 members of the Housekeepers Club gathered for a meeting at the City Federation Clubhouse in Temple.
'They make us special as families. Otherwise it's just stuff,' she said.
Mrs. Miller pointed to some of her own belongings that she had on display as she discussed the importance of transferring non-titled property. Drafted by the Texas Agricultural Extension Service but tweaked by Mrs. Miller, the presentation was titled 'Who Gets Grandma's Yellow Pie Plate?'
Her son's childhood trousers and near-disintegrated baby blanket were two examples of non-useful but much-loved items that have no function.
'They don't do anything but take up space in a drawer,' Mrs. Miller said. 'They mean something to me. Just two of those things I can't bear to get rid of.'
She added the trousers and strings of baby blanket only see the light of day when she uses them as teaching tools for programs like Grandma's Yellow Pie Plate.
An antique eggbeater was another of Mrs. Miller's treasures.
'Sometimes the egg beater makes a nice conversation piece,' Mrs. Miller said. 'It doesn't have any emotional value. I don't use it. It just takes up space in the kitchen. Perhaps it would be better off in a museum.'
As for her many piles of photographs, Mrs. Miller said she sorted through them, kept her favorites and discarded the rest.
'I made Christmas ornaments out of the ones I kept,' she said. 'That way, at least one month out of the year, they'll be out of the box.'
The challenge, though, Mrs. Miller said is 'what to do with the stuff with emotional value' like grandma's quilts and the remnants of her son's childhood.
'And there's no easy answer,' she said. 'Different families do different things. But it'll be too late if you wait until you're gone. You have to make sure your family knows why those things are important to you.'
Some moms decide to rid themselves of the responsibility altogether.
'They give their grown children all the precious things they've saved over the years all packed up neatly in a box,' she said. 'It then becomes their responsibility as to whether it gets kept or tossed.'
Another option is to make a list, saying who gets what. Or family members can come put tape on what they want and write their names on it.
Both of these options make the post-funeral cleaning task much smoother, Mrs. Miller said.
'Everyone in the family should know why the special things are special,' Mrs. Miller continued. 'Talking about it isn't one of the things that should be put off.'
One of the audience members pointed out that not all children will appreciate 'the sentimental stuff.' Mrs. Miller agreed, suggesting that the children who are interested in family history should become the next guardians of the old ornaments, clothes and knick-knacks.
For the families where every child wants everything, Johnell Ellison of Temple suggested a different method.
'Put an X and an O a piece of paper,' said audience member Mrs. Ellison. 'The one who gets X gets everything, and the one with O gets nothing.'
Laughs echoed through the dining hall of the City Federation Clubhouse, most saying that the idea is oh-so-tempting but would never work.
Another audience member, Charlene Rogers of Temple, brought the joking crowd back to seriousness when she started talking about her favorite Christmas ornament.
'I told my son that the bell had been on the Christmas tree every year since he was 2. And then I told him that the bell now belonged to him,' Mrs. Rogers said. 'Last month when I was at his house, I studied the Christmas tree. I looked and looked but couldn't find it.'
Mrs. Rogers couldn't ignore the ornament's absence for long.
'I finally had to bring the subject up,' she said. 'And before I could get mad, he walked me to the tree and showed me where the bell was, hanging at the top of the tree.'
Mrs. Rogers smiled as she finished her story.
'Kids have a funny way of surprising you,' Mrs. Miller said. 'Just when you think they won't carry on the memory, they do.'

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