Preserving Memories

I was a kid once, too. I spent every summer, between the ages of seven and ten or so, with my Mom’s parents at their big house in the country. There were four of us kids, and I think it was a favor to Mom to have us out from under her feet for a few weeks.

My grandparents—the sweetest grandparents a kid could want—lived inside a huge Greek Revival house. They were far from rich, but in my mind, their house was a mansion. Spending those summers in farm country, I usually had to search for something around the house to play with. I relished those days—building dams in the brook, fishing in the pond, and hiking the hills—exploring the wonders of nature through the fields and forests.

Spending such quality time with grandfolks who had already lived most of their lives got me thinking, even as a kid, about what their lives must have been like in the olden days. With no TV to watch, they would read to me most every night, or tell me real-life stories of their time as kids. I especially loved hearing about my mom and her sister when they were my age.

I learned games like Duck-on-a-Rock, Fox and Geese, and others. Grandpa taught me to fish; I caught my very first trout on April 1, 1958 in a stream so small you wouldn’t have believed a fish could live there. I enjoyed helping Grandma and Grandpa in the garden. They grew everything they needed, it seemed. Shuckin’ peas was my favorite thing to do when I wasn’t hiding in the peach trees eating peaches. And canning in the fall was quite fun—what an operation!

Work and leisure seemed to flow seamlessly together. Summer nights were the best. I realized more and more, with the passing of each summer, just how much I valued those times and experiences.  It was all great fun; I treasured each and every moment, each story and outing, and especially Grandma’s cookin’—she even taught me how to bake a pie!

Though I didn’t realize it at the time, my joy during these days would eventually lead me to a career in preservation. I miss them now. But the memories are as fresh today as ever.  Grandma died young, at age sixty-two in 1962, and Grandpa passed a decade later, at age 82—right after I had completed a report on his life’s story for a college folklore class. Fortunately, I had discovered the profession of conservation—preservation of historic and artistic works—during that folklore semester. A perfect fit for an art major with grandparents like mine, I thought.

It was then that I knew what I wanted to do with my life. For without ever knowing it, they had nurtured in me a hankering to preserve the tangible connections to our collective past—the objects that tell our story most vividly. Without an understanding of and appreciation for those historical links, we won’t ever really know who we are, much less where we should go or how we should get there.

I became consumed by this calling, to a career where I could contribute something to the preservation of our cultural legacy. I have now spent more than twenty-five years in conservation, trying to make a contribution to keeping our history alive for new generations. Thank you, Lew and Hazel.