I have a hate/love relationship with holiday decorating. While I often hate the cold process of retrieving the garland, tinsel and all those other items from the bowels of our family’s basement, I usually love the warm finished product: a house ready for the holidays.
This year, however, my “basement dive” was brightened by an object I came across for the first time in many years. I found a plastic black top hat like the one worn by Frosty the Snowman. In that moment, a series of memories sped through my mind like a magician’s interconnected handkerchiefs.
The hat had been part of a “build a snowman” set given to our family by a friend when my two daughters were tweens. The set included black buttons for a face and rounded sticks for arms. My youngest, Lindsay, especially loved the idea of making snowmen in our yard. That gift led to many snow families appearing in our yard during the next several winters — all punctuated by Lindsay’s sheer joy as she would pose next to them for pictures.
“This hat belongs in the Hall of Fame,” I thought to myself. That’s my phrase for a special section of my basement containing various items from my children’s early childhood — e.g., princess shoes, art projects, and crayon diaries, among others.
As I made my way across the basement, I also thought about a prized possession from when I was a tween. I grew up a baseball fanatic, and at that age I played for a team called the Falls Greenhouse Yankees. Our family vacation that year was to a place I considered sacred: the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, N.Y.
I remember enjoying all the exhibits about my baseball heroes, but my most significant memory is when my usually frugal father agreed to splurge for a souvenir. My choice? A miniature baseball bat complete with the logos for a Louisville Slugger and the Baseball Hall of Fame. It’s even made of real wood. That souvenir has been prominently placed in every home I’ve lived in since childhood. I guess you could say the bat from an actual Hall of Fame is now part of my personal Hall of Fame.
Hard to predict what will become treasured heirlooms
What I’ve learned from the black hat and mini-bat is that you never know what objects from a child’s life will become magical, memory-laden family heirlooms years later. So I always encourage parents to hang on to some “special” family objects for a while, though many will not make the final cut for a variety of reasons.
The family objects that survive, however, often become like props from famous movies that thrill collectors with their ability to conjure up full-bodied memories of individual scenes. The scenes symbolized by family heirlooms are from the home movies we play in our minds when we remember the past. In the spirit of the If You Give a Mouse a Cookie books, you might say if you give a parent an heirloom, he or she can’t resist remembering all the warm associations it evokes.
Another reason to save a few of the objects from your children’s early years is to create more opportunities for intergenerational bonding in the distant future. As we know, we live in a high-tech, highly disposable culture that has moved many childhood experiences into the virtual realm. One result has been a decrease in outdoor, low-tech, hands-on childhood activities like playing baseball and building snowmen.
The black hat and mini-bat in my basement, however, have built a bridge between the childhoods of my daughters and me. Their snowmen melted several years ago, and my baseball games ended several decades ago. But the magical remnants are still here for us to savor together.