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20140212_145138_resizedOn my last trip to visit my parents, my father and I were sorting through some of my mother’s belongings. She no longer needs her fancy clothes and jewelry, now that she lives in an assisted living facility because of her dementia. My father wanted my help in deciding what to give away and what to keep.

“Here,” my dad said. “You might as well take this.” He handed me a bracelet with a single heart-shaped charm. On one side in a pretty script, the charm read, “Mary” (my mother’s name). On the other side in block letters, it read “From Tommy” (my father’s nickname when he was young).

“I gave her that when we were in high school,” he continued. “It can’t be worth much. I didn’t have any money then.”

2014-02-12 14.53.38_resizedMy father didn’t tell me whether the bracelet was a Valentine’s Day or a birthday present or whether it was for some other occasion. Maybe he doesn’t remember. As I’ve written before, they started dating in high school. There were many possible occasions through their courtship for a young man to give his girlfriend a heart-shaped charm.

Despite its age, I had never seen this bracelet before. My mother never wore it that I remember. It is a girlish piece of jewelry, not suitable for wear either while doing housework or when dressed up for glamorous events. But even though it didn’t suit her life as she raised her children, she kept the bracelet and tucked it away with her more expensive jewelry. Clearly, it was precious to her—a gift from an earlier, innocent time.

I won’t ever wear the bracelet either. I, too, have no occasion to wear it, and there is no reason for me to wear a charm engraved with the names “Mary” and “Tommy”.

But I won’t throw it out. I’ll keep it with other family heirlooms. Why? Because it is a symbol of the love that brought me into the world and raised me. That I treasure.

My parents have been together now for over 65 years, and married for almost 59 of those years. My father visits my mother almost every day in her new residence, not liking to be away from her. “I miss the old gal,” he tells me.

Someday, when my children are cleaning out my belongings, they may wonder why I have this cheap bracelet. They will recognize the names on it as those of my parents, but it will have less meaning for them than for me.

As the generations pass, the significance of family mementoes passes, too. These keepsakes are only as valuable as the memories behind them. I write to preserve my family’s memories and to encourage my readers to preserve theirs as well.

A belated Happy Valentine’s Day to my favorite pair of lovebirds.

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