Barbara Elsmore describes the contents of her own box of family treasures, each with its reminder of past owners, helping her to envisage the lives of her ancestors.
I had had no idea of the word ‘mnemonic’ although I have used mnemonics many times over the years – ‘i before e except after c’, ’30 days hath September’, ‘one collar and two socks’ to remember how to spell necessary – I am sure you can think of more that have helped you too as an aid to the memory. I first became aware that this interesting word can also be applied to ‘things’ as well as rhymes and songs when I was reading an article about cutting down on the accumulated clutter we keep and the advice was to hold on to just a few important items and let them act as a ‘mnemonic’ as they will bring back memories when you look at them or handle them. Why do we put up framed photographs if not to remind us of a happy occasion or a loved one? Why do we keep an old theatre programme or even an old deckchair ticket and, yes, I must own up to this last one as I have a deckchair ticket that my dad kept when he visited the WW1 battlefields in 1939 when he also sat on the beach at Ostende. How can I possibly throw this out now as it has a story to tell me? Photographs, cards, letters and paperwork are easier to deal with, but what can we do with all the small odds and ends that we cannot bear to part with because they have so much of our own family history locked into them?
I bought a little wooden box that turned up at a local ‘antiques’ fair and I have put all these items that bring back so many reminders to me in this box. I have my mother’s wedding ring and a tiny coloured photo, that she clearly treasured, of her own mother plus the silver threepenny bits that she would put in the Christmas pudding.
I also have my granny’s amber necklace and I have a photo of her wearing it locked inside a plastic viewer which I keep with the beads for instant association.
There are several penknives and I guess they all belonged to my dad. He came from an era when chaps always carried a penknife and he loved to peel an apple producing the longest thinnest strip of peel he could manage which he would hold up for our admiration.
He often used to ‘whittle’ a whistle for us out of a stem of hazel. I also have his ‘gold’ propelling pencil and a curious little circular container for Vaseline which I am sure his mother gave to him when he was a boy because riding his bicycle to school in the winter caused him to get chapped knees as short trousers were worn for such a long time in those days (he was born in 1915).
In my box are some old spectacles found at the back of a drawer at my granny’s house including a magnificent pair of lorgnettes which belonged to Miss Barbara Rawson of Brecon House, Long Street in Sherborne and I feel sure these will have a story to tell me one day.
I have Grandad’s folding two foot long boxwood ruler that he would have kept in his top pocket at all times as he was a carpenter and a builder. I also have several larger items that certainly won’t fit into this box, some of them in regular use, such as my Grandad’s spade and the story behind this spade I am in the process of unravelling. I wonder if any of you have similar ‘things’ that have important family history attached to them – perhaps you could get them out and tell us about them?