This past weekend I went for a drive up the shore of Connecticut and came across a very quaint town called Niantic that seemed liked it was carved out from a movie set. There were two eccentric used bookstores, a coin collection store and numerous handmade ice cream shops. I could have been in Americana of yore. I was wandering about wondering who collects coins anymore and what do people do with their used books these days. I was left thinking about how these items and more are handed off to the next generation.
I have a lovely bookshelf in my living room filled with hundreds of books as well as hundreds of shot glasses that I have collected from my travels. I find that a room is enhanced in its beauty by a somewhat orderly (yet random) book assembly. A few years ago I went to someone’s house where proudly not a single book could be found. I remarked causally on the lack of books and the household head noted that they instructed their kids to keep the house clean and free of clutter, including books. To them books were to be hidden and were solely utilitarian. Books were not something cherished, read multiple times and handed to their children as a rite of passage.
When I was pregnant, my mother in-law sent boxes upon boxes of old children’s books. They were old and dog-eared and classic reads. Although I lived in a tiny Manhattan apartment where one extra book could cause chaos in the state of being, I cherished the books. Those books were going to be handed off to the next generation. I would sit with my son and read those stories so that he could expand his mind and realm of possibilities.
Along with books, those boxes contained old photo albums. There were black and white photos with odd short descriptive snippets written in the album edges. These photos were to also be handed off to the next generation. Grandmothers and great grandmothers were captured in those photos so that one day I could sit with my son and tell him a story or two about his heritage with accompanying visuals.
When I was growing up, my mother used to love to audiotape our everyday interactions and conversations. This was before Linda Tripp gave surreptitious recordings a bad name. My mother was a prankster and thought it was hilarious to capture us in a moment of everyday silliness where we were just being ourselves. She loved also singing and having me perform Sunday funny bits. By the time she died she had barrels filled with recordings. She would dip her hand in and pull one out to aide her reminiscing. Those were to be mine someday.
When my mother died, I sadly did not have the ability to sort through her items and hold onto things that were precious to me and to her. I did manage to grab one of her eyeglasses, the last book she was reading and one audio cassette that had fallen beneath the couch. I never did get the photo albums, her old precious books and her recordings filled with happy, mirthful times. I occasionally listen to her voice on the one cassette and a few digital recordings I managed to find on an old computer of mine; her silly voice always trying to play a prank on someone. It is what I have left to pass on to my son.
These days, with the thousands of digital photos that we manage to take and store on our hard drives, may not serve as artifacts that we peruse together with a loved one. Do we bother printing many photographs anymore and assembling a photo album that will be handed off and on to the next generation? I have often wondered what happens to those thousands of digital photos when we die. I am not too sure anyone contemplates the digital memories when getting their estates in order. The act of bestowing the digital memories to a loved one seems rather odd and jarring. It’s as if we are not to pass those photos on forward. Sure, we can store those photos on a cloud, flicker site or drop box for protection and easy wide sharing. However, I cannot recall stopping to look very often at those share accounts to get a sense of the lived lives of those photographed. These digital memories, if not corrupted in time by a virus or some other funky computer malfunction, may live on in some virtual world but not in our physical being and consciousness.
These digital books that we now buy and perhaps read once and have stored in the virtual world do not necessarily get passed on. Can we will our digital book collection? I suppose if you have a kindle reader you can pass that on, if the technology is not out of date. How do we pass on a classic book to the next generation anymore? Luckily all my Harry Potter books are the hard copy kind that I will be able to read to my son and hopefully he will pass on to his children and their children when I am long gone.
The handoff is all about a physical act of sharing and noting that something, someone was key and noteworthy. The handoff allows for an enhanced environment of storytelling and reminiscing. I do not know what the future holds for my son and how the physical and digital environment will continue to morph in the future. I do now stare at my bookshelf knowing that my son will get these when he is older and I truly hope it will fill him with joy and pull at his heartstrings a little.
As I was leaving my office yesterday, the door slammed a little hard behind me and one of the few pictures that I have of myself with my sister and mother fell and shattered. As I looked at the glass shards, I felt my heart break a little as well. I will find a new frame –a hardier frame that will continue to physically move with me wherever I go and that will eventually be handed off as a relic and an item that brings both sorrow and joy in its stories.
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