Aunt Joyce's Afghans

Her hands were always in motion as she sat on the sofa across from us, looping yarns over a crochet hook and pulling the strand or strands through other loops, and so on, and so on. Her daily masterpieces always lay across her lap, as she added rows to them, chatting at the same time.

Aunt Joyce was a multitasker. She could crochet half of a large afghan in an afternoon while watching television and carrying on a casual conversation. Crocheting was one of her things.

I think everyone in the Jarriel family has at least one afghan Joyce crocheted for them. I’m special. I have four. She made the first one for me in 1990, the year I married. It’s a large off-white afghan showcasing an exquisite seashell design. After my husband and I married, it occupied the backside of a big cozy chair in the great room of our first home. I curled up in the warmth of Aunt Joyce’s afghan on many nights as I watched television or read a book.

One of four afghans Aunt Joyce made specially for me. 

One of four afghans Aunt Joyce made specially for me. 

In 1991, she sent me a pastel pink baby afghan—a hint, I guess. I put it away in my cedar chest. Two years later, she made another one for me. This time, the baby-sized afghan was mint green. A year after that, she made me another pink one. Our babies never came, and so Joyce’s tiny afghans stayed hidden in the darkness of the cedar chest until last year after she died. I pulled them out one by one and looked at them.

I’m sure I thanked her for them, or did I? Surely she knew how much I appreciated everything she made for me, gave to me, said to me . . . Surely she knew.

Born in 1928, Joyce Valentine Jarriel was my mother’s oldest sister.

“She was almost ten years older than me, so she was already grown and living away from home through most of my childhood,” Mom remembers. “She’d always bring us a little something when she came home. She made me and Gloria dresses sometimes.”

She stood tall at 5’11” and had bright blue eyes and golden blonde locks. Lee Roy Anderson of Reidsville eventually won her heart. They married in 1946 and had four children (Dawn, Pam, Roy, and Yancey) before I ever came along.

She and Uncle Lee Roy ran a furniture business from a store behind their Richmond Hill house. Along with furniture, they also sold knick knacks and housewares.

One year, she gave me solid oak stool with a slit cut into the top that could be used as a handle. Another year, she sent me a little saucepan with a note that read, “This is good cookware. You’ll have this little pot forever.”

It has simmered gallons of gravy and boiled hundreds of eggs through the years.

Her gifts were practical and meant to last. So were her conversations.

She called me in 2009 after my father-in-law, George, died.

“Hey Honey. I was going to send you and Gene a sympathy card, but I decided not to,” she said. “All of those sympathy cards are just too damned sad, you know? They all talk about death and resting in peace and loss. You start feeling a little better, then you get a sympathy card in the mail, and you get sad all over again, so I decided not to send one.”

She was right, you know. Sympathy cards are really sad.

“I want to tell you something,” she continued, her words flowing like water. “I’ve always loved you, you know, since you were a little girl. And I love Gene, too.”

“Now, you and Gene did a lot for his daddy, and that’s important. I know how hard it is to take care of someone—especially a parent. You did all you could for him. Gene was a good son to him, and you were a good daughter-in-law, and that’s that. He couldn’t have asked for more.”

“How’s his mama?” she asked, and then we talked about Gene’s mother for a few minutes before she ended the conversation by asking us to come see her soon.

Her phone call made me feel better.

The last time I saw Joyce was in 2015. Mom, my stepfather, Gene, and I drove to Richmond Hill to visit her, stopping in Pembroke to buy a big carrot cake with icing so sweet that the first bite broke me out into a sweat. We sat at her kitchen table and talked for an hour. She told us a story from her past about a gas station down the road from her that had a big billboard on the highway that read, “Gas, Monkeys, and Beer.” At some point, some of the monkeys escaped, but no one knew.

Mom and I with Aunt Joyce in 2015 in her Richmond Hill home.

Mom and I with Aunt Joyce in 2015 in her Richmond Hill home.

“Yancey ran inside one afternoon yelling that there was a monkey swingin’ around outside, and I told him to shut up and stop lying, or I was going to spank him,” she said. “He convinced me to step out on the porch, and there it was—sitting in a tree. I couldn’t believe it.”

We laughed and laughed, but then it was time for us to head home.

“Please don’t go,” she said.

Her faded blue eyes welled up with tears, and she clutched my arm.

“Stay for a while longer, or . . . take me with you.”

I felt the power of loneliness in her pleas. Walking out of her house and driving away that day was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.

Those afghans mean the world to me now. They envelop me in love. And she was right—that little pot’s going to last forever. So will my memories of Aunt Joyce.

 


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My mission is to help people tell the stories that matter—the stories that need to be preserved for future generations. I've helped hundreds of people (young and old, professional writers and newbies) write stories about keepsakes. Pick up your pen and start writing today!

Still not sure how to do it? Browse the Project Keepsake blog and read a few excerpts or order your own copy of Project Keepsake today (free shipping). And thanks for stopping by!

Someone Else's Keepsake

Happy Valentine's Day everyone! Today, I welcome guest blogger and buddy, David Aft, who wanted to surprise his lovely wife with a special gift and a story on this day of love. David sent his story to me last week and asked that I wait and post it today. Happy Valentine's Day, Pauli Aft!

Enjoy David's story titled, "Someone Else's Keepsake."

From time to time the spirits who look after the weather issue a perfect mid-winter day.  Sunshine animates the crisp air and a little breeze reminds you that it’s not quite spring.

It was on just such a morning that I noticed a garage sale at a small house near my office.  The purveyors were busily answering questions and collecting a dollar here, fifty cents there and generally making good-natured small talk.

One of them told me the house had belonged to his sister, who had recently passed away after a long struggle with dementia.  Hundreds of pieces of her estate were gently organized in the open carport and driveway.  As I surveyed the diverse offerings, I thought about the things we accumulate in our lives.  We accumulate experience, knowledge, insight and perhaps even a little wisdom.  We also accumulate a host of worldly goods that survive us as a collection of artifacts—a modest Rosetta stone of our earthly lives.

This notion added depth and a certain poignancy to the sale, and for a moment, I was not looking at a collection of knick-knacks and lightly used kitchen ware, but a final testament.

Amidst the possessions, David spotted a tiny replica of the Eiffel Tower.

Amidst the possessions, David spotted a tiny replica of the Eiffel Tower.

Amidst the sprawl, a short set of metal shelves held about forty smaller items.  These seemed a little more personal and a couple of them caught my attention.  A small brass replica of the Eiffel Tower peeked out from behind a very interesting lucite paperweight from the seventies.  I asked the gentlemen working the sale about the tower, and he looked at it and told me he remembered it was special to his sister, but he didn’t know or recall why.

My imagination raced just a little, as I pictured a young woman looking at the miniature and dreaming of going to Paris.  Maybe someone had given it to her as a souvenir from a memorable week visiting outdoor cafes and museums.  Maybe it was her keepsake, a memento of a once-in-a-lifetime trip.

David and Pauline Aft posing with the grand Eiffel Tower.

David and Pauline Aft posing with the grand Eiffel Tower.

These thoughts were quickly followed by an abrupt realization that those stories would never be told, as they were the provenance of a woman whose memories had left her long before her quiet demise.

I stood there and realized I was surrounded by a sea of keepsakes, de-tethered from the memories that made them special—once again, empty vessels perhaps waiting to be given root in a new imagination.

I have a friend and fellow garage sale enthusiast who told me some things are just not meant to end up in the junk pile, and I think I agree with her—sometimes a keepsake can be repurposed, with its own story and pedigree enriched by another chapter.

I purchased the tiny tower, along with the lucite paperweight from the Seventies.  I plan to keep the lucite piece at my office and give the Eiffel Tower to my beautiful wife on Valentine’s Day as a reminder of our spectacular and romantic trip to Paris a couple of years ago.  They will each enjoy life anew and join the family of keepsakes that accent our story and become, all too briefly, the keepers of our own memories.

—David Aft, February 2016 (for his wife, Pauline)

Thanks for the blog post, David. And again, Happy Valentine's Day Project Keepsake readers. Keep those stories coming, and remember, everyone has a keepsake, and every keepsake has a story to tell.

Heirlooms Here and There

This month, a few folks at Points North Magazine fell in love with the thought of heirlooms. On page 86 of their February issue, Editor Heather KW Brown talks about a 1950s couch from her grandmother's house that she reupholstered, Shannah Smith mentioned an old hall tree, and Tiffany Willard revealed that she has her grandfather's old wicker rocking chair, though the runners are worn and flattened out now. They invited readers to share an heirloom or two on Twitter using the hashtag #PNAfterThoughts. 

I'm surrounded by heirlooms and keepsakes. I chose two items in my office to share with my friends at Points North using their hashtag.

More heirlooms from Margaret—an old Webster's dictionary perched on an old oak dictionary stand.

More heirlooms from Margaret—an old Webster's dictionary perched on an old oak dictionary stand.

A mission-style oak dictionary stand supports a rather hefty, vintage Webster's dictionary in the corner of my office. It was my mother-in-law's. She loved words and was a voracious reader, so the dictionary and stand are perfect reminders of her. 

She taught English composition to college freshmen for years at the University of Tennessee in Chattanooga. When I close my eyes, I can still see her curled up on the end of her sofa reading poorly-constructed essays. She'd occasionally glance up at the television to see what the Braves' score was before returning to her task of grading papers. She shook her head back and forth in disgust, then broke out the red pen.

Margaret and I shared a love of poetry. She could recite many poems. She was particularly fond of the opening of Wordsworth's "The Daffodils."

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o'er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils.

Every spring, I stand in awe of the patches of glorious yellow daffodils that burst to life in our yard, and I think of Margaret and the line, "Beside the lake, beneath the trees, fluttering and dancing in the breeze."

A few arrowheads and coins I keep in a wooden keepsake box in my office—reminders of my father.

A few arrowheads and coins I keep in a wooden keepsake box in my office—reminders of my father.

But on to the second heirloom selection of the day...

On the piano in my office is a small wooden keepsake box my sister gave to me a few years ago. It contains one third of my father's arrowhead collection and a few coins he collected in his lifetime (my brother has the majority of his coin collection because they collected coins together). My sister had the lid inscribed with a powerful quote by Tuscarora—"They are not dead who live in the hearts they leave behind."

My dad was more at home in the woods with wildlife than he was indoors with people. He filled his pockets with artifacts from the forest—arrowheads, buckeyes, interesting rocks, an old piece of pottery he found on a riverbank somewhere, a shotgun shell, etc.

I love the fact that I can hold the arrowheads and feel them from time to time. I'm sure my father's DNA— and the genetic residue of a few Native American hunters who occupied the woods of Middle Georgia—still resides on the surface of the flint pieces.

And the coins are simply works of art. I love studying them, too.

Again, we keep things to help us remember. Almost everyone has an heirloom or keepsake, and every heirloom or keepsake has a story to tell. And oh, how I savor the stories and memories.

Talking about Keepsakes with Radio Host David Clarke

I love being on the radio and talking about Project Keepsake. I've done several radio shows. Tonight, I was on David Clarke's show, Different Strokes for Different Folks.

I love being on the radio and talking about Project Keepsake. I've done several radio shows. Tonight, I was on David Clarke's show, Different Strokes for Different Folks.

I had the pleasure of being a guest on David Clarke's radio show, Different Strokes for Different Folks, tonight. His show focuses on spiritual exploration and finding common ground with others.

Each story associated with Project Keepsake—the fifty-five stories published in the paperback and the dozens of stories I've posted on the Project Keepsake blog—is unique, yet each reveals common threads that connect us all and celebrate the glorious human experience. I connect deeply to almost every story in the collection. In some cases, I relate to the keepsake itself (like Jesse's milking stool or Julie's dresser or Sherry Poff's Devil's Ear plant) or the story reminds me of a person or moment in my own past (like Nancy's memory of her hard-working grandma or Ken Berry's story about his Masonic mementoes). We all have so much in common, and the stories in Project Keepsake hit this idea home.

I'm pasting a link to the radio show, but be warned—I wasn't at my best tonight. I have an excuse. Really! My husband and I spent four hours on our roof this afternoon making repairs and cleaning moldy siding. I was mentally and physically fatigued, but as they say—the show must go on. I had a wonderful time with David, who is a talented radio host and an extraordinary person. I look forward to talking with him again in the future.

Dot's Book

One of my favorite childhood books was "The Real Mother Goose." I think my sister has this in her book collection now—one of her keepsakes.

One of my favorite childhood books was "The Real Mother Goose." I think my sister has this in her book collection now—one of her keepsakes.

I feel a strong connection to books and the many libraries and bookstores filled with shelves brimming with books, books, and more books. When I was a child, I devoured picture books—Dr. Seuss' "One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish" and "Green Eggs and Ham," were among my favorites, as well as a large, weathered copy of "The Real Mother Goose" with illustrations by Blanche Fisher Wright. I read them over and over again. The magical words and pictures opened my mind and took me on journeys to other worlds. They were my companions when my two older siblings and my mother weren't entertaining me.

As I grew older, I graduated to other authors and titles. I read Judy Bloom's "Are You There God? It's Me Margaret," at a pivotal time in my life, as I faced the many challenges and changes associated with puberty. I read Harper Lee's "To Kill a Mockingbird" as a young adult and saw myself on the pages of her masterful literary work. The book still brings me to tears.

So when I read Dorothy "Dot" McCrory's keepsake story, I got it—I instantly got it. In fact, I stand in solidarity with her because she, too, found joy and bliss in the many pages of books at a young age.

Today, I'm posting Dot's story, "The Book" in its entirety. It's short and sweet, and the ending will make you smile. I hope you love it as much as I do. From page 66...


When I was an elementary student at Wayne Street School in Lewistown, Pennsylvania in the mid 1940s, I happened upon a treasure trove—not buried treasure, mind you, but nevertheless treasure for which I had to dig

I was in third or fourth grade, and it was the last day of school. Teachers began to cleanup their rooms, and as the final bell rang to dismiss us for the summer, I lagged behind and asked my teacher, “What is happening to those books in that box there?”

“Those are discards,” she said. “Books that can’t be used anymore, so we throw them away.”

Incredulous, I asked, “Throw them away!?”

“Oh, yes. Books get worn out and after they’ve been rebound once, we have to get ready for new books that will come in over the summer, so we throw the old ones away.”

“May I have some of them?” I asked.

“Well, not now. I have to go to a teachers’ meeting, but come back in the morning and you can take what you want.”

Needless to say, the following day, I was up and dressed and out the door before I could even answer my grandmother’s question, “School? On the first day of your vacation?”

When I got there, the doors and windows were open, the janitor was mopping, desks were stacked, teachers were dressed in old clothes. But none of that made an impression on me when I saw the boxes of old books sitting outside each room. Br’er Rabbit to the briar patch. My, my, my! An unbelievable bliss descended over me. If there were buckets of gold, chests filled with jewels, or mountains of dollar bills, nothing could compare to the treasure I saw before me.

Dot McCrory flips through the pages of her keepsake. Dot's a retired English teacher and valued member of the Dalton community.

Dot McCrory flips through the pages of her keepsake. Dot's a retired English teacher and valued member of the Dalton community.

“Yes,” the teachers said, “Take what you want.”

With my arms laden with booty, I made several trips to carry my treasures the three blocks to my house. And wonder of wonders—I found notebooks with unused pages in them and pencils—dozens of pencils. I was set for the summer and then some.

The foray into digging for buried treasure was just the beginning. Every year thereafter, I went back to school the day after the last day, and dug in the boxes to add to my growing library.

All my finds were great, but I found the most significant book the day after the last day of my freshman year. I collected a Geometry book and a Latin II book that year with the intention of getting a leg-up on my sophomore year. That good intention went away when I found a book called simply American Literature. Published in 1933 (the year I was born) and accessed by Lewistown High School in 1936, American Literature began with the Mayflower Compact and went into the twentieth century.    

Poetry, essays, plays, biographies, stories, and documents. I fell in love. I was seduced. There was no way to escape. I met Dickinson, Millay, Teasdale, Poe, Whitman, Whittier, Harte, Alcott, Emerson, Lanier, Lowell (James Russell and Amy), Crane, Sandburg, Kilmer. Not content, however, just to read the poems, I memorized them. Thanatopsis by William Cullen Bryant, The Mountain Whippoorwill by Stephen Vincent Benet, Nursery Rhymes for the Tender-Hearted by Christopher Morley, I Have a Rendezvous with Death by Alan Seeger, and on and on. No Latin II or Geometry entered my head that summer. I wallowed in the written word. Shameless, like a wanton hussy, I gave myself to this book called American Literature.

That was 1947, over fifty years ago, and where is that book? Right beside me as I write this story. When I left Lewistown in 1951 to move to New York City to attend college, the book went with me. When I moved to New Jersey to teach, so too, moved the book. When I joined the U.S. Army and was stationed at Ft. McClellan, Alabama, the book was stationed there, too. And when I settled in Dalton, Georgia in 1963, the book settled, too.

In many ways, the book shaped my life. I know I can trace my love of literature to what I discovered between its frayed and tattered covers. When I am cremated at my life’s end, I ask that some kind soul slip the book along with me to the crematorium, then the book and I, so long inseparable, will be inseparable forever. 

—Dot McCrory, Project Keepsake


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We need more books in the world, folks. And we need to read to our children more. And we need to encourage our young readers more. And we need to turn off our electronics more and simply lose ourselves in stories. What do you think? And do you still have a book from your childhood? If so, which one and why?

My mission is to help people tell the stories that matter—the stories that need to be preserved for future generations. I've helped hundreds of people (young and old, professional writers and newbies) write stories about keepsakes. Pick up your pen and start writing today!

Still not sure how to do it? Browse the Project Keepsake blog and read a few excerpts or order your own copy of Project Keepsake today (free shipping). And thanks for stopping by!

Margaret's Collection

I ripped the strapping tape from the boxes and dove in, removing tissue paper puffs and carefully unwrapping dozens of packed pieces. It was a trip down memory lane. With delicate "clinks," I placed each demitasse on the island in the kitchen and attempted to identify matching saucers. 

Margaret Nagle's demitasse collection—a few of her keepsakes.

Margaret Nagle's demitasse collection—a few of her keepsakes.

"I remember this one," I said, directing my comment to my husband. "We bought this one for her when we were over in Luxembourg."

He shrugged his shoulders admitting he remembered his mother's collection, but not the individual pieces.

"And I think they bought this one at an antique store in Macon on the weekend we got married," I remarked, holding up another one in scrutiny. "Remember?"

We turned each cup and saucer upside down and read the stamps aloud—Wedgwood, Limoges, Old Royal Bone China, Johnson Bros Old British Castle, etc. With each piece, I could see Gene's mother organizing her collection on the triangular shelves of a corner cabinet of her Chattanooga home. She had an appetite for the finer things in life.

Wedgwood Queensware from Margaret's Collection.

Wedgwood Queensware from Margaret's Collection.

In a much larger china cabinet, Margaret showcased a Wedgwood collection that would make an antiques dealer salivate.

"This is Wedgwood Queensware," she said to me one day running her fingers over the raised, white embossed grape leaves that lined the edge of a blue-lavender plate. "They call this piece a pedestal compote dish. We bought these two dishes at an estate sale on Lookout Mountain."

Assorted pieces from Margaret's Wedgwood Jasperware collection.

Assorted pieces from Margaret's Wedgwood Jasperware collection.

She shifted her attention to another shelf in the cabinet. "The pieces with the chalky surfaces are also Wedgwood, but these are Jasperware," she added, hoping that I would take more than a passive interest in her collection.

Like a child in a candy store, I admired the pieces from behind the glass, scared I would damage one of the dainty trinket boxes, miniature cream pitchers, or urns if I dared touch them. We often purchased a decorative plate or vase for Margaret for her birthday or Christmas, so I knew how expensive the items were. 

She collected demitasses, Wedgwood, vintage silverware, and Pigeon Forge pottery until her accident—that's the moment when everything changed. She didn't get out much after that. We witnessed her physical and mental decline.

When Gene's dad died in 2009, Margaret moved to a nearby assisted living facility. We packed up the house and brought many of the boxes of collectibles to our home. They slumbered in the darkness of our basement for six years without anyone picking them up and talking about their beauty, histories, or origins.

But I woke them up last week. I plucked dozens of Margaret's collectibles from the boxes and wiped the dust from the surfaces. I photographed each one and began placing the items up for sale on eBay. The task made us a bit somber, but we'd much rather the pieces go to people who love them as much as Margaret did than continue to collect dust and cobwebs in storage.

We will keep a few select pieces and display them in our dining room—a shrine to a woman we miss so much.

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FREE Shipping and Handling. Project Keepsake is a collection of 55 nonfiction stories about the origins, histories, and memories behind keepsakes—a pocketknife, a cake pan, a ring, a Bible, a hat, a wallet, etc. The last chapter guides readers through the process of writing keepsake stories. 

And so I've been thinking a lot about Margaret this week and remembering the times we shared. I can see her sitting on the end of the sofa with a book in one hand and a leg folded underneath her. I've caught myself humming "Chattanooga Choo Choo" and "In the Mood," because she loved Big Band music so much, almost as much as she loved opera and Jose Carreras. I've thought about the days following her mastectomy—how she lifted her shirt and showed me her scar saying, "I want you to know what it's like." I've thought about her holding her beloved Cairn Terrier, Killer, and changing her voice like a ventriloquist, as if he was talking to us. I remembered how she cackled the day she showed us a fake tattoo she'd stenciled on her arm.

But I keep going back to her last few days in this world, as we sat by her bed and sang to her and talked to her—her eyes closed tightly and her breathing growing more and more labored.

"Open a window," one of the Hospice nurses suggested. "Let her soul fly away."

It flew away in the night time. 

Her collection brought her great happiness. Each piece held a memory.

Margaret brought me great happiness—each moment part of my memory now.

Write a Killer Keepsake Story—My Secrets

For the last few years, I've been a walking, talking billboard advocating storytelling. I've helped hundreds of people share their stories. During each of my workshops, someone will tell me they’re dry as a bone—they have nothing to write about. I reject this statement every time.

I ask, “Do you have a keepsake at home—an heirloom, a memento, or a souvenir?” 

After a few seconds, the writer usually thinks of something and shares it with me.

“Where did it come from?” I follow-up. “Why do you keep it? Does it remind you of someone? Tell me the story. Tell me all of the story.”

I believe that everyone has a keepsake, and every keepsake has a story to tell. It’s the premise of my book, Project Keepsake, a collection of fifty-five short, nonfiction stories about keepsakes. Each story focuses on a specific keepsake or memento—a knife, a ring, a cake pan, a hat, a book, a quilt—and explains why the keepsake is special to the writer.

We must keep storytelling alive. Write the stories that matter. Share your memories. Preserve your family's history. (Photo by Audrey Lanier Andersen)

We must keep storytelling alive. Write the stories that matter. Share your memories. Preserve your family's history. (Photo by Audrey Lanier Andersen)

It’s easy! Here are a few tips for writing a killer keepsake story.

  • IDENTIFY A KEEPSAKE—Look around your house, on your shelves, in your drawers, in your closets, and in curio cabinets until you find an object that has a special place in your heart. By definition, a keepsake is something you keep to help remember a person, place, or event. 
  • BRAINSTORM—Start with a blank sheet of paper and just start writing everything that comes to your mind about your keepsake. List your thoughts on paper and don’t worry about making complete sentences. Where did it come from? How long have you had it? What does it look like? Why is it significant to you? Why do you keep it? Are there any stories about the keepsake or the person, place, or event the keepsake reminds you of? Where do you keep it? 
  • ORGANIZE YOUR THOUGHTS—I draw bubble diagrams to help map my stories out. Take all of the thoughts, memories, and ideas you listed in the brainstorming process and group them together in some logical fashion.
  • HOOK 'EM—Every story needs a strong beginning to hook the reader’s attention. Consider starting off with an action, an anecdote, a scene with strong imagery, or interesting dialogue. Decide how you will launch your story, and go ahead and draft a transition sentence that will guide the reader to the rest of your story.
  • PUT PEN TO PAPER—Using the notes from your outline or bubble diagram, draft your story. Try to get it all down on paper before going back and adding more meat to the paragraphs. 
  • REVISE AND POLISH—Look at your opening paragraph and make it stronger. Make sure your subjects and verbs agree. Check spelling, capitalization, punctuation, and grammar. Replace weak verbs with stronger verbs. Add a dash of dialogue here and there. Add more content.  Remove content that doesn’t seem to work.
  • PUT IT AWAY—Put away your story for about two weeks. Don’t think about it. 
  • REVISE IT AGAIN—Revisit your story again. Your story will look completely different. You will see many opportunities to strengthen it. Keep revising your story until you are happy with it.
  • PUT THOSE FINISHING TOUCHES ON IT—Place your title, your name, and the date at the top of the first page. I also suggest you snap a nice photograph of your keepsake and embed it into your document.
  • SHARE—Again, I ask you to join me in keeping storytelling alive, so share your story and encourage your friends, family members, neighbors, and coworkers to write about their own keepsakes. Share your story on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, blogs, eBooks, and via email. Share! If you send it to me, I may post it on my blog.
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My mission is to help people tell the stories that matter—the stories that need to be preserved for future generations. I've helped hundreds of people (young and old, professional writers and newbies) write stories about keepsakes. Pick up your pen today and start writing!

Still not sure how to do it? Browse the Project Keepsake blog and read a few excerpts or order your own copy of Project Keepsake today (free shipping). And thanks for stopping by!



 

Melissa Ramos' Keepsake

Melissa Ramos wrote a story about one of her keepsakes—a necklace her sister gave her when her grandfather died.

Melissa Ramos wrote a story about one of her keepsakes—a necklace her sister gave her when her grandfather died.

Melissa Ramos is a young writer who attends Heritage Middle School in Ringgold, Georgia. After my visit to Heritage earlier this year, Melissa sat down and crafted a story about one of her cherished keepsakes—a necklace.

I'm so impressed with young writers like Melissa. They have such a fresh way of looking at the world and a wonderful way with words and phrases. If there is one thing that I wish every young writer believed, it is simply this—You are so much better than you think you are!

I hope you enjoy Melissa's story, and I hope it inspires you to think about one of your own keepsakes. Where did it come from? Why is it special? What memories does it hold? Write the story of your keepsake on paper and share it with others. 

Melissa wrote about a necklace—a reminder of her grandfather's death and the kindness her sister extended to her. Here's Melissa's story titled, "Believe."

My family and I were in the car talking about how much fun we had at the beach. Our faces were as red as ripe tomatoes. You could still smell the salt water of the ocean.

My mom was driving which was very unusual. Then my dad, with a serious face, said he had something to tell us. I knew by the way he'd been acting that something was wrong—he wasn't about to tell us that we'd won the lottery. It only took him a minute to say one sentence, but it felt like an eternity.

"Your grandpa died this morning," he said.

Those five words quieted us all—as if the sentence took our voices away from us.

I couldn't believe what my dad had said. At that age, I'd never lost someone so important to me.

I don't remember crying when my dad told us the bad news. It just didn't register in my mind that I would never, ever see my grandpa again.

Three days later, which went as fast as a turtle crossing the world, we attended his funeral. That day was the day I understood that my grandpa was gone forever, and that he would not be coming back. I burst into tears.

My sister saw me and gave me a necklace. The necklace has a cross, a white pearl , and a circle inscribed with the word, "believe."

She told me each item on the necklace has a unique meaning. The cross means my grandpa is with God. The white pearl is going to wash my sadness away. And the little circle with the word, "believe," meant that everything was going to be okay—that I just need to trust that God has better plans than I do.

My sister always used to ask me: Do you want to make God laugh? Then tell  him your plans.

And that's how a simple five-dollar necklace became as valuable as a diamond to me. I wouldn't sell it for a million dollars!

—Melissa Ramos, Heritage Middle School

 

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Thanks for sharing your beautiful story, Melissa. I hope you continue writing. Believe in yourself—you are already a great writer.

I hope that Melissa's story inspires you to share your stories behind your keepsakes. Give it a try. You are a better writer than you think. 

For more stories about keepsakes, check out the stories on this blog or pick up a copy of Project Keepsake. The last chapter of the book takes you step-by-step through the process of writing your own keepsake story. 

 

Kaylie Guinn's Keepsake

I think all writers and authors should give back. We should share our experiences with other writers. We should encourage young writers to pursue writing and storytelling. We should offer our advice and assistance.

Charm bracelets help people remember significant moments of life, and so do keepsake stories. Kaylie Guinn shares a story about her charm bracelet and the dangling charms it holds. 

Charm bracelets help people remember significant moments of life, and so do keepsake stories. Kaylie Guinn shares a story about her charm bracelet and the dangling charms it holds. 

Back in February, I spent a few days giving back by encouraging classes of young writers at Heritage Middle School in Northwest Georgia. I talked to them about publishing Project Keepsake, and I shared some writing tips with them. 

They were a bright, attentive bunch of kids, and I enjoyed my time there. A few of the students took on my writing challenge and wrote stories about their own keepsakes, and I've posted them here on my blog. Today, I present young Kaylie Guinn's keepsake story to you.

Kaylie has led a "charmed" life. Enjoy her story about her charm bracelet.

The roaring of "Happy Birthdays" filled the room. Everything was simply fabulous that day. We had just finished chomping on some cake when Mom yelled, "It's time to open presents."

I had just turned one, so I really had no idea what was going on. On that day—my first birthday—I received  a charm bracelet from my nana and mom. It was a sparkly, silver  bracelet with a silver "K" on it, and I loved it so much.

On my birthdays on all the following years, I would get another charm, and every charm meant something different.

On my second birthday, I received an elephant charm, because I loved going to the zoo.

On my third birthday, I got an angel, because my great-grandmother died that year.

On my fourth birthday, I got a frog charm, representing the times when my uncle and I caught frogs in his backyard. 

When I was five, we traveled a lot to the beach, so on my fifth birthday,  I got a dolphin charm.

When I was six, I had a peace sign party, so that year, I got a silver peace sign with pink diamonds.

On my seventh birthday, I received a pineapple charm, because that was my favorite fruit.

For my eighth, I received a green and pink polkadot one—representing my two favorite colors when I was little.

On my ninth birthday, I got a Bible charm. I enjoyed going to church, and I am a Christian, so the charm was perfect.

On my tenth, I received a birth stone charm to represent my date of birth.

On my eleventh birthday, I got a red and navy charm, because the colors represent Heritage Middle School.

On my twelfth birthday, I got a turtle, reminding me of the time we hooked a turtle at the lake, instead of a fish. 

Now, I am thirteen years old, and I received a charm with a megaphone on it.

All through the years, I've received charms that say something about who I am and about my life. The tradition continues, and I find myself wondering: Will the tradition ever end, or will it last for as long as I live?

—Kaylie Guinn, Heritage Middle School

Thanks to Kaylie for sharing her story with Project Keepsake. Keep storytelling alive! Share the stories that matter in your life. 

Lindsey White's Keepsake

I love working with young writers, so I was excited to work with the students at Heritage Middle School in Ringgold, Georgia back in February of this year. I shared a few secrets with them—use strong verbs, add a few dashes of dialogue, start with a strong hook paragraph, etc. After each class, I said, "If any of you write a keepsake story and send it to me, I'll publish it on my blog." 

I received Lindsey White's keepsake story a few weeks ago, and as promised, I'm posting the story here for the world to read and consider. Lindsey was masterful at using his grandfather's bible as a way to launch into a story filled with rich memories. It's a great tribute to his grandfather.

Enjoy Lindsey's story titled, "My Grandfather's Bible."

It was getting close to summer time, which meant it had been over a year since my grandfather passed away.  He was in his early eighties when he died.  I was twelve at the time.  I was looking through some of his old Bible studies, lessons, and books at my grandmother’s house.  That's when I came across a Bible that had "Reed White" written on the bottom right corner in gold letters. 

I started to look through it, turning all the old worn pages.  He had written many little words throughout the Bible and underlined verses in blue and black ink.  I looked up to my grandmother and asked, “May I have Papa’s Bible?” 

She said, “Well of course you can, as long as you use it.” 

In excitement, I said, “Yes I definitely will.”

My grandfather grew up in a very poor environment.  At birth his twin brother and mom died, and his father was not in the picture.  His grandmother ended up raising him.  However, he made the best of what he had.  He graduated college and went on to work for the State of Tennessee until he retired.  He was deacon and taught Sunday school for thirty-something years. 

I had always looked up to my grandfather.  He was a very Godly man.  He never once judged people.  He taught me to get to know someone by looking in their inner appearance, not outer.  I thought very highly of him.

 My grandfather and I had always been close.  Every day after school, my grandmother would pick me up and drive me to their house. We would play different kinds of games.  My favorite game was Chinese checkers. 

But the first thing I did every day when I got to their house was sit on the red and green couch beside my papa’s dark green chair and tell him a joke.  Most of the time, my jokes were not even funny, but he would laugh like it was the funniest thing he had ever heard. 

Then he would tell me a new joke that someone had told him.  I remember when he asked me, “Where do one-legged waitresses work at?” 

Then he said, “IHOP,” and we laughed.  

I had the best time with my grandfather even if all we did was tell jokes to one another.

It has been around a year since I have had his Bible, about two years since he passed.  I leave his old red Bible on my dresser.  It is always open to the verse that he told me to live by when I got my first “big boy Bible” and when I got baptized.  The verse is Jeremiah 29:11.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord. “Plans to prosper you, not to harm you.” 

Every day I look at the Bible and that verse to remind me of what a great, Godly man and grandfather he was.  In the back of the Bible, it has pieces of advice.  There are sections on marriage, revel, repentance, and many more.  I feel that he wrote these things not only to help him, but to help me. 

That old, ripped and torn red Bible means so much to me because it was my grandfather's.  I will keep it until it is time to give it away to one of my grandkids.  Then they can pass it on to their kids.  I want it to be something that continues throughout my family. 

I have other things from my grandfather like two of his jackets, but his Bible means more to me than anything else.  Even though my grandfather is in Heaven right now, and I did not get a lot of time to be with him, he still means so much to me.  

Sometimes I will hold his Bible and read it when I am going through hardships because it reminds me of him.  My grandfather and his Bible will always be important to me.

—Lindsey White, Heritage Middle School

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Lindsey may be young, but the love he had for his Papa is universal. I love the fact that he and his grandfather shared special moments together telling each other jokes. I love Lindsey inserting "big boy Bible," into his story. Again, his story is a wonderful tribute to a man who meant so much to him.

Thanks, Lindsey. Keep recording your memories and feelings.

Keep storytelling alive, friends! Share the stories that matter. If you don't know how to get started, pick up a copy of Project Keepsake and read how other writers told their stories.

As always, thanks for your interest in Project Keepsake.

Taylor Dyer's Keepsake

 

Earlier this year, I worked with several students at Heritage Middle School in Ringgold, Georgia. I shared my tips for writing stories about keepsakes and encouraged them to give storytelling and writing a try. 

Taylor Dyer wrote a keepsake story about a baseball signed by pitching great, Tom Glavine.

Taylor Dyer wrote a keepsake story about a baseball signed by pitching great, Tom Glavine.

Taylor Dyer was one of those students. I love his hook—the way he opens his keepsake story with the tension of a close ball game. I also love the way he articulated the sound of a baseball being hit with a bat—"BANG." I know that sound. As I read Taylor's story, I could hear that sound in my head.

Enjoy Taylor's story, "The Autographed Baseball."

“Go! Go! Go!” the fans roared. It was the last inning of the game and the Ringgold Tigers were down by one point. There was a runner on second and third with two outs.

BANG!

I have played baseball since I was very young, especially with the Ringgold Tigers select team. When I was young, baseball became a habit for me, but as I grew older, baseball started to fade away from my life.

I enjoyed playing baseball with my friends Dalton, Blake, and Wyatt, along with my other friends. Our team had won many games including the Region Championship where I had made two out of three outs in the final inning to win the game.

One of the things I enjoyed most about baseball was hanging out with my friends all the time. We would always go somewhere after my game, whether it was out to eat, to an amusement park, or over to a friend’s house to spend the night.

When I was ten years old and my team made it to the World Series, we went to Panama City, Florida. My team and I had a blast. We ate at lots of restaurants where we devoured delicious food. We won most of our games including one against a team that Tom Glavine’s son pitched on. For those of you who aren't familiar with Tom Glavine, he is a legend. He was a left handed pitcher for the Atlanta Braves during the late 1990s. 

The other team we were facing had maintained the lead throughout the majority of the game, but in the last inning of the game, our team rallied. We scored consecutive runs that put us down by only one run. There were runners on second and third and two outs.

My friend Peyton was up to bat. He didn’t swing at the first few pitches, then, “BANG!” He nailed a grounder up the middle of the field allowing both runners to score, giving us the victory. It was a hard-battled game, but we came out with the victory.

After the game, my family and I went to the opposing team’s dugout where we met Tom Glavine. He autographed my baseball and my baseball hat. I was so excited that I met one of my favorite major league players. When we returned home to Georgia from Florida, I put my baseball in front of my window in my bedroom so I could admire it every day. The ball smelled like leather, just like my baseball glove.

As I started losing interest in baseball, I began to appreciate the ball even more. It brought back so many great memories of playing baseball with my friends.  Since all of my friends on my team now attend different schools, I hardly ever see them. No matter how much I hated the hot weather, or how many times I said, “ I don’t want to play baseball,” my autographed baseball will always make me miss the greatest moments of that time.

—Taylor Dyer, Heritage Middle School

 

Taylor also sent this photo of himself and a teammate standing with Tom Glavine. I'm sure that was an exciting moment for him and his friends. And kudos to Tom Glavine for signing balls and posing for photos, even though his son's team lost that day.

Thank you for sharing your story, Taylor. Keep writing! You are a wonderful storyteller, and we certainly need more storytellers in the world moving into the future. Best of luck to you!

Kimi Carter's Keepsake

Pictured is the music journal from The Decemberists. Kimi Carter shares a keepsake story about a journal.

Pictured is the music journal from The Decemberists. Kimi Carter shares a keepsake story about a journal.

Earlier this year, I worked with several students at Ringgold's Heritage Middle School and encouraged them to write stories about their keepsakes. After my visit, Kimi Carter, a gifted student who attended one of the classes, drafted a story about a journal and sent it to me.

I love the action in her story and can see her bolting through her house trying to rouse all the sleepy heads in her family. Her words are filled with such joy.

Here's Kimi's keepsake story, "The Journal." Enjoy!

I woke up on the warm side of the bed—my face hot and my body sweating, but my feet, which weren’t under the covers, were freezing.  I looked over and checked the time: 6:43 a.m. 

"Am I too late?" I thought, "or am I too early?"

I got up anyways and darted up the stairs to my brother’s room.  

“Jacob! Jacob! Wake up! It’s Christmas!” I exclaimed, all the excitement in my voice exposed.

“Kimi, go back to sleep,” he groaned into his pillow. “The presents will still be here when you wake back up.”

I got the same response every year, but each year I continued to wake him up enough that he couldn’t go back to sleep.

“I’ll be down in a second,” he finally gave in. I grinned and ran back down the stairs, bursting into my sister’s room.

“Katie, it’s Christmas!” I woke her up. I usually got a better, more exciting response from her.

She sat up and rubbed her eyes.  She yawned and stretched, looking over at me. “Have you woken Mom and Dad up yet?” she asked.

I shook my head. “It’s your turn this year.”

She sighed and stood up. I ran into the living room and saw the stockings lined up in front of the tree, just as they are placed every year on Christmas morning.

“Santa came!” I grinned excitedly.

Mom and Dad stepped out of their bedroom and watched their 11-year old daughter jump for joy.

Christmas was always special to me. Everything felt like it was happier—more magical.  I knew that one day that magic would fade as I grew older. But on this day, it was still there while we were digging through our stockings that the fat man brought us. 

After my brother and sister opened their stockings, I didn’t expect much: socks, shampoo, undergarments, some candy maybe.  I pulled out a few of those things, but I wasn’t disappointed at all.  I dug through the socks and underwear and shampoo and found a very unexpected item.

“What is it?” I asked, flipping through the blank pages of a black, sparkly book.

“A journal, I suppose.” Mom smiled. “Or a songbook.”

“Maybe Santa noticed how much you talk about Taylor Swift and her writing and he got you a songbook,” dad suggested.

I examined it for a second, and then smiled. “I like it.”

Four years later, I sit on my bed flipping through the crowded pages of a beat up songbook.  Every page is filled with rhymes about life and love and loss.  It holds my thoughts, my emotions, and my secrets.

The Christmas present I received four years ago is now my best friend.

—Kimi Carter, Heritage Middle School

Thank you for sharing your keepsake story with me, Kimi, and most of all, keep writing and sharing your stories. You're a natural! I look forward to seeing you in the future—as you walk to the stage at the Grammy's to accept a songwriter's award. Keep storytelling alive!

Wayne's Brick

Wayne Minshew was one of the first writers to send me a keepsake story. I remember reading the title of his story—"The Brick."

A brick? Now that's quite an unusual keepsake, I thought. But Wayne was a quite unusual character. 

Project Keepsake brought me and Wayne together. We formed a friendship—a friendship that flourished over time. I've never felt more like a bonafide writer than I did when I met fellow writers, Wayne Minshew and Coleen Brooks, in town for lunch and a writing critique session. 

Wayne Minshew with his keepsake—a brick.

Wayne Minshew with his keepsake—a brick.

I will miss that. You see, Wayne died two weeks ago. I am heartbroken. His family is heartbroken. Our community is heartbroken.

I wrote a tribute to him on my other blog at  http://ambernagle.com/2015/04/so-long-shew/ 

Wayne was a baseball man through and through. He played baseball for the University of Georgia. After achieving a journalism degree, he played professional baseball in the St. Louis Cardinals organization, was a sports writer for the Atlanta Journal Constitution, and worked as the director of public relations and promotions for the Atlanta Braves. His career was celebrated in a chapter of the 2013 book, Keepers of the Game: When the Baseball Beat was the Best Job on the Paper. He was the father of two and a grandfather to four and a dear friend to thousands.

I did not get to attend my friend's memorial service, but I've heard that it was a service Wayne would have been proud of. At the end, the congregation of family and friends raised their voices and belted out, "Take Me Out to the Ballgame." How appropriate!

Today, I present to you Wayne's keepsake story in its entirety. Again, a brick is an unusual keepsake, but it held so many memories for Wayne. Enjoy!

 

The knock on the door was loud and insistent.

“Yeah, what is it?” I said, irritated. I was, after all, involved in a mission of importance: M*A*S*H, and Col. Henry Blake had just been told he was going home.

“I got a package for you,” said the voice at the door. He paused, then added, “Sir.” It sounded sarcastic.

I opened the door to greet a messenger from UPS.

“Sign here,” he said, and I did.

The package was heavy. 

“What could it be?” I asked the messenger, who shrugged. “Beats me,” he said.

It carried the weight, say, of a bowling ball. But I don’t bowl.

“You might open it,” said the UPS guy.

I pondered his suggestion, considered it sound and tore into the package, which produced a brick—a brick?

Puzzled, I examined the package further and found a note. It was from Claude Felton, who heads-up sports communication at The University of Georgia.

“I was passing by where the field house used to be,” he wrote. “They imploded it to make room for a new building, and it’s several piles of bricks now. You were the first person I thought of, so I got one for you.”

When I was a student-athlete at UGA, I lived in the field house, along with several other baseball players. We lived in the attic. Our furnishings included a bed apiece and a refrigerator. We had somebody in once a week to change the dust.

We were known, if not campus-wide, then certainly within our own confines as Bird, Flap, Hard Man, Hose Nose, Fats, Rocky and Smokey. We lived for baseball, occasionally studied, finally graduated and went separate ways to separate careers.

Now and then, we run into each other and swap memories that we recall as if they happened yesterday instead of five decades ago.

It was the best time of our lives—our glory days.

Since the building housed locker rooms for several sports teams, we had the choice of twenty-five or thirty showers, an abundance of soap and towels, a training room and a smug feeling of privacy set apart from, say, a mundane dormitory.

Also, we—the baseball team—had the only winning team on the UGA campus, adding to our smugness.

The field house was watched over by a watchman we called Hawkshaw, who carried white lightning in a bottle. “It helps me fight off cold winter nights,” he told us.

The brick rests on a special table inside my apartment. I had it engraved and added felt tips so it won’t damage the table’s glass top. It seems cold and impersonal just to look at it, but it contains more memories and causes more reflections than almost anything I own.

I sometimes touch the brick and think back to those heady, glorious times at UGA. They remain the happiest days of my life.

—Wayne Minshew from Project Keepsake

Rest in peace, Wayne. Thank you for your friendship, your ever-so-upbeat encouragement, your time, and your willingness to help me in all of my writing endeavors. Your passing has left a big hole, but we will carry on, continue writing, share our stories, and encourage other writers to join in—just as you taught us to do.

Biscuit Bowls and Conversations

Cheryl Parham is a middle school educator I happened to meet while peddling books at the Prater's Mill Country Fair back in October of last year. She stopped by the authors' tent and talked to me and Janie Dempsey Watts for a few minutes about our books and keepsakes. A few weeks later, she invited me to come to her school and talk to her students about the writing process.

Cheryl Parham shared a story about her mother's Jadeite biscuit bowl. Read other keepsake stories in Project Keepsake.

Cheryl Parham shared a story about her mother's Jadeite biscuit bowl. Read other keepsake stories in Project Keepsake.

And so in February, I spent three fun days working with teachers and students at Heritage Middle School in Ringgold, Georgia. I explained my method for writing keepsake stories and encouraged them to write their own stories. Some did, and in the next week, I will feature a few of their stories on my blog.

But I start with Cheryl's story about a Jadeite biscuit bowl. As I read it, I could see the wrinkled hands of both of my grandmothers working dough into buttery biscuits. 

Don't know what Jadeite is? It is a stain- and heat-resistant, milky green glassware that was popular in the 1940s and 1950s. It was commonly sold in dime stores. Sometimes, a bag of flour or oatmeal would include a piece of Jadeite dinnerware in the bag. Wanting to collect more pieces, consumers—like Cheryl's mother—would loyally continue to buy the product brands featuring Jadeite dinnerware. 

I love Cheryl's story titled, "Mama's Biscuit Bowl." What do you think? Leave a comment.

“Mama, guess what happened to Sharon at school today. A bird pooped on her head. Out of all of us kids on the playground, the bird pooped on Sharon’s head. We laughed so hard at her.” 

Mama just smiled as she continued to knead the biscuit dough. Nearly every weekday night you would find me perched on the counter rattling off about my day at school as Mama stood at the counter and made biscuits. I knew the routine by heart. She would get the biscuit bowl from the cabinet. With the flour and sifter already in it, she would set it on the counter, get a snuff glass from another cabinet, walk to the refrigerator and fill that glass half full of milk and then stop by the sink to fill it the rest of the way with water. Our time to talk would then begin.

 Mama was all mine during those years. I was the youngest of eight children, but the closest to me was seven and a half years older. Three of my sisters were already married by the time I was born. The other four were working on it. I grew up—just mama and me. 

As I watched and talked—mostly talked—Mama would sift the flour, hollow out a hole in the middle of the flour, and then scoop three fingers full of Crisco into the hole. After pouring the glass of milky water in as well, she would begin to knead.

“Why are girls so mean? I think I would rather play and talk to the boys at school instead of the girls. They talk about me all the time.”

“People only talk about you when they’re jealous of you,” she explained. “I wouldn’t worry about it if I was you.”

The kneading was done and now she was rolling the dough in soft balls in her hand. I continued to mull over my thoughts as she patted them flat and spaced them equally in rows of three in the bread pan that she had already greased with another scoop of Crisco.

“Mother, I was soooo embarrassed today!”

“Well, what happened?”

“It was very quiet in English class. Everyone was working. I sneezed and pooted at the same time. You should have heard everybody laugh at me. My face was blood red!”

“What did the teacher say,” she asked with a huge grin.

“She didn’t say nothing. She just looked at everybody. They all made fun of me in the hall though."

“Oh well, it will be alright,” she said.

By this time, the biscuit bowl with sifter had been returned to its place, along with the Crisco. Mama would open the oven door from time to time and check the biscuits by touching them. She knew when they were done by touch. She would pull those beautiful, lightly browned masterpieces from the oven and pour them onto the plate so that they folded over into a perfect stack. I never figured out how she did that.

There were so many conversations. So much of my junior high and high school life was shared over that Jadeite biscuit bowl. I could go on and share the “facts of life biscuits,” “the how do you get saved biscuits,” or the “why I cussed the softball coach biscuits,” just to name a few. Almost every mama lesson I remember was learned in the kitchen, and most of those were while making biscuits.  No matter the topic of the day, the setting was the same—me on the counter and Mama making biscuits.

Years later, after my Daddy died, Mama wasn’t able to live by herself. It was not necessary to take her homemaking items with her so she went ahead and gave all of her children the things they wanted. All of the “Mama, can we have this or that when you die” things were being dispersed. The biscuit bowl had to be mine. None of my sisters argued with me over it because it did not hold the memories for them that it did for me.

The biscuit bowl has been retired from service now and holds a special place in my dining room. Not too terribly long ago, I learned that Jadeite is considered an antique and that you can find bowls like Mama’s in antique stores for about $50. That may not sound like a lot but considering it was probably bought new for a few bucks fifty or sixty years ago, that it is a pretty good rise in value. Nevertheless, it is, and will always be, priceless to me.

—Cheryl Parham, 2014

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Thank you again Cheryl for inviting me to Heritage Middle School. I enjoyed my time there, and I hope that I inspired several young writers. Maybe they will put their pens to paper and begin their writing journeys early. I hope! And thank you for sharing such a lovely keepsake story with me and with Project Keepsake readers.

Do you have a keepsake? If so, share its story with friends, family, and the world. Keep storytelling alive. If you don't know where to start, consider buying a copy of Project Keepsake. The book's fifty-five short keepsake stories are examinations of why we keep the objects we keep. The last chapter takes you through the process of writing your own story.

To order a signed copy, click the link on the right. Shipping is free. Or you can download the book in electronic form from Amazon. Happy reading! Happy writing!

 

eBook Sale—Just 99 Cents

For just $.99, you can download the electronic version of Project Keepsake and start reading the stories associated with fifty-five treasures—a pocket knife, a quilt, a hat, a ring, a brick, a shirt, etc. The book also includes a chapter at the end to help readers write their own keepsake story.

Project Keepsake's publisher, Native Ink Press (Ink Smith Pub), is offering the eBook for pennies as part of a brief book promotion. Get your electronic copy today, and start reading.

Most of all, keep storytelling alive! Share the stories that matter!

Here's the link to the $.99 download—http://astore.amazon.com/3914-20?node=1&page=2

Dreams, Smells and Memories

I had an incredibly realistic dream last night—one of those where I wasn't sure if I was dreaming or not.

As I walked down a long hallway, my cell phone rang. It was my niece, Andrea, calling, and she and I talked as I entered a large waiting room full of people sitting in chairs. As I probed each person's face, I finally saw a face familiar to me—my dad's tan, weathered face.

I dreamed of my father last night, and at the end, I smelled him.

I dreamed of my father last night, and at the end, I smelled him.

He was sitting next to my mother, who was sitting by my stepfather, my stepfather's brother, my Uncle Edwin, and my Aunt Monteen. They all looked up at me, as I continued my phone conversation with my niece.

"Wow," I said to Andrea. "You are never going to guess who is here. My dad is here. I don't know how and I don't know why, but my dad is here. And Mom, and Johnny, and Johnny's brother, and Uncle Edwin and Aunt Monteen... My DAD is here..."

I stared into his eyes, and he smiled as he listened to me talk to Andrea.

See, my dad died in 1992, and I look forward to seeing him occasionally in dreams. Indeed, I dream about him two or three times each month, and sometimes, the dreams are very powerful, like the one I experienced last night.

I suddenly woke from my dream and realized that our Golden Retriever was too hot and panting heavily in our bedroom. I got up and cracked a window for him, letting a stream of cool air blow toward his body. I snuggled back underneath our quilt and pouted that he had woken me from a date with my father. I heard the soft tingle of wind chimes on our front porch and drifted back to sleep.

Surprisingly, I was back in the waiting room of my dream, but the chairs were empty now, and no one was waiting. I walked around looking for any trace of my dad, but he had vanished as suddenly as he had appeared. Sad and deflated, I turned to leave the room, and there he stood in front of me. He was wearing a red golf shirt and jeans. I took a step toward him and hugged him, burying my face deeply in his chest. 

And I smelled him. I inhaled my dad's unique smell.

In twenty-three years, that smell hasn't faded from my memory, but it was extra potent last night. It was some type of validation that he was really with me last night—I don't know how and I don't know why, but he was.

I kept that smell with me all morning. I thought about my father, and I thought of my high school classmate, Julie Moss. Julie contributed a keepsake story about her dad's dresser to my Project Keepsake collection a while back. She kept her father's dresser after he died, and at times, she stands before it and breathes in her dad's manly aroma. That's the part of her story that really hooked me, because I know how powerful a smell can be after you lose someone.

So today, I'm featuring an excerpt from Julie's story on my blog because smells can be a portal connecting us to people and places we love, or loved. Julie's story starts on page 184 of the book. Enjoy the excerpt.
 

My parents always struggled a bit, so it was a big deal when they bought their first bedroom furniture. The set was made out of pure oak—very heavy and ornate, but not in a feminine way. It consisted of a new king size mattress, box spring and headboard, two nightstands and two dressers. My mother’s dresser was low and long with nine drawers and a mirror. My father’s dresser was tall and had two doors with drawers inside and two drawers below. I remember my father standing in front of his dresser, getting ready for a night out on the town with Mom. 

Julie Moss tells the story of her dad's dresser in this excerpt from Project Keepsake. 

Julie Moss tells the story of her dad's dresser in this excerpt from Project Keepsake

He eventually made two little platforms to go inside to give him more shelf and organization space. He kept all his aftershaves, colognes and jewelry inside those doors, and in the drawers were his unmentionables and old-school-style handkerchiefs which he carried for emergencies. I thought that dresser was the best dresser ever made. It was unlike anything I had ever seen.

My father and I were on the losing team, as I referred to us because my sister was very close to my mother and my father always deferred to my mother. I was lucky, though, because he taught me things that he didn’t have time to teach my sister like changing tires and checking fluids in the car—he always emphasized the importance of maintaining vehicles. He taught me how to use a grill and cut the grass. He taught me the importance of responsibility in my personal life. He always told me how beautiful I was when I was feeling fat and ugly. He once said to me that if he was my age, and not my dad, he would love to take me out. That meant a lot to me as an awkward teenage girl. 

He and my mother taught me how real love works with mutual respect and teamwork. He also taught me to be self-sufficient so I would never have to rely on a man to get things done. Once after complaining that my friends weren’t around to do something, he gave me some advice I still use today, and it is the best piece of advice I ever got from my dad. He said, “Never wait on someone to do something. If you want to see a movie, go see it, don’t wait on your friends because you will miss out on a lot of fun waiting around for other people.” 

I share his message with my son, nephew and my friends today. I never feel funny about doing anything by myself because of his advice.

I was lucky enough to work with my father for about a year doing store inventories. It was a great experience. During that time, I called him “John,” not “Dad” because of the professional environment. 

He always had his hat, a cup of coffee and a lit cigarette. One girl we worked with often, called him John Boy—how fun! I enjoyed working with him, and while I knew he was well-loved before by many people, I was able to see firsthand that he was well-liked and respected at work by coworkers. I saw that he was a positive influence to so many and a real team player. 

On several occasions, store employees would ask me if I was in charge.

“Why do they keep asking me that?” I asked my dad one day.

“Because you look like you know what you are doing,” he replied. 

His words boosted my ego to the moon. He always knew what to say to me to build my confidence.

I never saw him angry at work. He always looked for solutions to problems—a trait I inherited from him. It makes me seem kind of butch sometimes, because I am a cutthroat problem solver, which is usually a male trait. Oh well, there are much worse things in life than seeming masculine.

Years later when my parents died, my sister and I sold the house and divided their belongings as we wanted. I made sure I got several keepsakes, but above all else, I wanted his dresser—more than the bassinet he had made with his own two hands and more than the priceless record collection that he and I enjoyed together. 

Years of storing all his personal belongings in the dresser had left his “dad smell” in the wood—an imprint of him. Even now, eleven years after his death, I can still open the dresser’s doors and smell my dad. I breathe it in, and it’s as though he is still with me.

—Julie Moss, from Project Keepsake

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I haven't seen Julie since high school in Warner Robins, Georgia. We reconnected a few years ago, when ninety percent of our classmates got on Facebook. She obviously has an adventuresome spirit, because just out of the blue, she sent me her story. That's when I learned that Julie is an aspiring writer who plans to eventually compile stories from her life as a former military brat, travel agent, Waffle House waitress and inventory auditor. She is a single mother of one grown son and finished her studies at Middle Georgia State College last year. She currently works for Celadon. Again, I use the word, "adventuresome" to describe Julie.

Thanks again, Julie, for sharing your story with the world. We look forward to reading your autobiography. I'm sure it will be a page turner. And good luck at Celadon! Keep us posted.

Do you have a keepsake? If so, share its story with friends, family, and the world. Keep storytelling alive. If you don't know where to start, consider buying a copy of Project Keepsake. The book's fifty-five short keepsake stories are examinations of why we keep the objects we keep. The last chapter takes you through the process of writing your own story.

To order a signed copy, click the link on the right. Happy reading! Happy writing!

Sharon's Scissors

Sharon Huey's keepsake story about her heirloom scissors is one of my favorites in the collection. I love the way she told her story using line after line of dialogue. Each time I read it, I'm transported back to Sharon's childhood with her, and through her words, I witness the conversation between Sharon and her mother.

Sharon Huey tells the story of her grandmother's silver scissors, passed to Sharon's mother, and then to her.

Sharon Huey tells the story of her grandmother's silver scissors, passed to Sharon's mother, and then to her.

I also love the unexpected detour her story takes as her mother recalls how she learned to thread the bobbin of her mother's sewing machine. There's just a hint of the supernatural in that particular passage, and I connected to that part as well.

Sharon is a gifted writer and an encouraging friend. I met her through the Chattanooga Writers Guild. I have missed her fiercely since she and her husband, Ed, moved back to Natchitoches, Louisiana. Just a few weeks ago, I received a custom Christmas card from the Hueys. It was cool and classy, just like they are.

Tonight, I'm missing several of my Chattanooga friends, and so I am sharing an excerpt from Sharon's story, "Birdie B.'s Silver Scissors." You can read her keepsake story in its entirety on page eighteen of Project Keepsake. Enjoy!

 

I stood on the rocker of Mother’s chair and looked over her shoulder as she did some hand sewing. I wanted to be outside, but a recent bout with pneumonia kept me tied to her apron strings. Mother showed the most compassion when I was sick, her tenderness boundless during those times. The healthier I became, the more the disciplinarian emerged in her. She wanted me off the rockers of her chair.

“Sharon, bring me my little scissors.” I could hear the edgy pitch in her voice.

“Which ones are they?” I asked, hopping off the rocker. The chair lunged forward.

“The little scissors with the piece of red material on the handle,” she heaved a sigh.

I found the scissors on the sewing machine and carried them to her bedroom where she sat in a chair listening to the TV but paying more attention to her needle and thread. She brought the thread to her front teeth and bit it off close to the material. The stringy leftovers she clipped away with the silver scissors.

“Why did you have to have those scissors?”

“They are the only ones that will do.”

“But why?”

“Sharon, you make me tired.”

I looked off into space hoping to let myself drift in a day dream when she said, “They belonged to my mama.”

“They did?” I couldn’t believe she ever had a mother. “Your mama?”

“Yes, your grandmother. She was an excellent seamstress. She made all my clothes. Once when I was in college, she made me a brown and yellow dress that was a perfect copy of the latest fashion. A girl in my dorm asked if she could borrow it. I didn’t even share clothes with my sisters, but I let her wear the dress. The Dean of Women called me to her office and got on to me for loaning that darling dress that my mama had put so much work into. I got the dress back and never let anyone else wear my clothes again.”

“Did my grandmother know me?”

“No, she died before you were born.” Mother trimmed and snipped at wayward threads as she talked.

“These little scissors belonged to her. See this piece of fabric tied to the handle?”

“Yes.”

“This is from the last dress she ever made before she died.”

“Oh,” I rubbed the frayed red cotton between my thumb and index finger. “Soft.”

“She started me out sewing pillow cases with a simple over and under straight stitch. Soon, she had me making underwear and bed clothes.”

“Underwear? You made underwear?”

“Yes, I did. Eventually, she taught me to sew on the machine. My baby brother, Bruce, would crawl under the sewing machine in the afternoon and take a nap. I guess the sounds of Mama and me talking combined with the machine going just put him right to sleep.”

“Is he a grown up man, now?”

“Yes, you know him—Uncle Bruce.”

“That’s funny that he slept under the sewing machine.”

“We all worked in the yard, the kitchen, or washing. Nobody was going to stop and put the baby down for a nap. He just slept wherever he was comfortable. He liked to get under Mama’s machine.”

“Did your sewing machine that you have now, belong to your mama?” 

“Yes, after Mama died, your daddy and I brought her sewing machine home with us. Mama’s machine was brand new, only a few months old. I was the only one of the girls interested in sewing, so I got her machine. When we got it home and set up, your daddy and I could not thread the bobbin. I wanted to use the machine so badly, but after weeks and weeks of trying, we still could not figure out how to make it work. It sat idle. Finally, I just gave up on sewing.” 

Mother paused and concentrated on her own stitches. I sat on the floor to get a better look at her face. Were her eyes misting behind her thick glasses?

“So what happened?” I prompted.

“I probably shouldn’t tell you this. It will make you believe in ghosts or something.”

“No, I won’t. Please tell me.” Mother considered whether to tell me the story or not. “Please,” I said.

“Well, all right. One night about three weeks after she had died, Mama came to me in a dream.” Mother looked and sounded excited. “She stood right in front of me and said: “Birdie, this is how you do it.” She held the bobbin in one hand and the case in the other.”

Mother’s voice took on a mystical quality, soft and full of awe. She blinked away several tears but continued.

“Mama clicked the bobbin into its case, pulled and tightened the thread just so with her fingers, and dropped the bobbin in the machine. She showed me with her own hands. When I woke up in the morning, I felt wonderful because I had been with Mama. I went straight to the machine and threaded the bobbin. That was in 1940 before you were born. I still miss her.” Mother wiped at her eyes. “Sharon, get me a kleenex.”

I pulled a Kleenex out of the box on the dresser and handed it to her. She dabbed at her eyes.

“Mama used to say, ‘Work is our salvation.’”

“What did she mean by that?”

“She meant if a person is busy, they don’t have to dwell on things so much.”

“What things?”

“Back then, children died of pneumonia, diphtheria, and typhoid. We didn’t have booster shots.”

“Died?” I had only heard of one child dying, and she had fallen from a high tree limb. 

“Yes, back then life was hard. Only four of Mama’s nine children lived to be adults.”

I quieted thinking about my recent run-in with pneumonia, while Mother pushed forward quickly with her story. 

—Sharon Huey, an excerpt from Project Keepsake

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Sharon taught English and Drama before retiring. In those days, she sponsored literary magazines, directed plays, and coached individual speaking events and mock trials.  She's portrayed Christian television host, Lovey, in an independent film titled, "Sahkanaga." And she writes here and there. She is looking for representation for her first novel, Listen to the Lambs, and is working on a second novel. I've read part of her second novel and it is a real page turner.

Thank you, Sharon, for the hours we've spent talking about this and that and for always being supportive of Project Keepsake. Thanks for sharing your story, and thank you for recruiting Ed to join us, too. I hope to see your beautiful face soon.

Do you have a keepsake? If so, share its story with friends, family, and the world. Keep storytelling alive. If you don't know where to start, consider buying a copy of Project Keepsake. The book's fifty-five short keepsake stories are examinations of why we keep the objects we keep. The last chapter takes you through the process of writing your own story.

To order a signed copy, click the link on the right. Happy reading! Happy writing!

"The Bread Man"—A Story from Gadsden

In December, Judy Bacon and Craig Scott invited me to the Gadsden Public Library to speak to their Friends of the Library group about keepsakes, storytelling, and writing. The Gadsden Public Library is a hub of community activity—a model for other libraries. In addition to its shelves and shelves of books, the library features a spacious bookstore that sells slightly-used books, magazines, and movies at deep discounts. The proceeds from bookstore sales go back into the library to make even more improvements. It also boasts a cafe cleverly named Novel Cafe. As a family history researcher, I was pleased to learn that one entire floor is devoted to genealogy and archival material. Most of all, the folks associated with the library are as warm and welcoming as rocking chairs on a wrap-around porch in the springtime. I felt so at home there.

The contents of Will Bevis' envelope—keepsakes from a good samaritan!

The contents of Will Bevis' envelope—keepsakes from a good samaritan!

It was there that I met fellow writer, Will Bevis. 

Will shared one of his many keepsake stories with me that evening, then pulled out a sealed envelope to show me. On the front of the envelope, he had written the words, "Clifford Fountain gave me this money about maybe 71/72."

You'll understand the significance of the envelope and its contents after you read Will's story titled, "The Bread Man." I've posted it in its entirety below.

After the Gadsden event, I drove home in December's darkness, traveling through downtowns dressed-up with the whimsical decorations and twinkling lights of Christmastime in the South. I drove the expanse without the distraction of music or news, opting instead to be alone with my thoughts. I reflected on 2014 and the many keepsake stories strangers—now friends—shared with me throughout the year, but my mind kept returning to the story of the bread man.

Enjoy!

THE BREAD MAN: A KINDNESS NEVER FORGOTTEN”
(Dedicated to Clifford Fountain)

Looking back,
I was so stupid at twenty.
I should have been locked in prison for my own good.
If there had been a test for common sense,
I would not have been able to write my name on it.
All I knew is
I was hitchhiking to Texas by God.
And there I would become rich.
There was a little more to it than that, I admit.
But that was the basic plan.
And it was really no plan at all.
I was just leaving.
Said goodbye to my beautiful blonde girlfriend,
Had already said goodbye to my parents whose hearts must have
already been broken with grief across the river,
had already walked out of American History class as soon as
the professor had passed out the tests
and I realized I knew absolutely nothing on it
so why bother to waste a moment more in that classroom?
I was going to TEXAS, yee haw!
Gonna get a job with a millionaire,
show him I would do any God d*** thing required of future millionaires...
and jump right up the ladder of success.
Yes, siree, buddy.
I was leaving walking...
but I’d be coming back a self made man.
I went up to Highway 72 West, turned right on it and kept walking.
Walked so far the cotton plains started turning hilly.
A mile is pretty damn far when you are walking it...
not zipping past it in a car.
That fact hadn’t been on the history test nor in the textbook.
I was learning it just this moment.
No worry. Some nice person would give me a ride.
Keep in mind it was just me traveling without any thing.
So why wouldn’t they stop?
There would be no big suitcase to heave into the car.
Not even a stick with a bag tied on the end of it balanced over my shoulder.
It was just me, baby.
Me and the June day those dummies across the river were still taking the test at.
Those that knew the answers.
I remember looking at it and thinking...
I do not know not one answer.
Politics, it was, who was backstabbing George Washington and the other founders of our country
and each other.
That stuff would never do me any good anyway.
The only thing that would do any good now...
was some water. And a ride. But not food. I wasn’t hungry yet.
Damn that road to Memphis was long.
And I wasn’t even to Mississippi yet out of Alabama,
and even if I ever did get to Tennessee and Memphis,
Hell, I still had to go all the way across Arkansas.
And the sun was getting a little hot.
I wouldn’t have to worry about that for long though...
later on when it went down...
I would be cold.
Who cared about that now, though?
I didn’t even think about it.
I just walked and watched the cars pass on by.
I didn’t even have to have my thumb out.
They would see me going to Texas and they would just KNOW.
It was like I had a sign on my back.
It surely must read for every one to see...
”I’m going to Texas. I’m going to get filthy rich and famous.
And even Elvis will know me.
Then I’ll come back.
You’ll see.”
They didn’t see.
But my dogs were seeing something.
They were seeing all this walking was not for them.
I didn’t stop. I didn’t rest.
I wasn’t even near the state line yet,
Much less Texas.
And from somewhere there came this little bitty tiny ant of an idea.
It crawled up my legs and into my brain and said, well just whispered at first...
”Maybe this isn’t such a good idea.”
”TO HELL YOU SAY! TREASON! BLASPHEMY!” I responded.
I kept on going.
I’m a damn rebel.
Rebel soldiers walked thirty miles a day in the War!
I’m a rebel!
I don’t study in class.
I tell the professors to kiss my a** at test time.
This heat, this tiredness, this sweat, this thirst...
it’s all just a minor setback.
Texas, here I come!
But still the idea had been planted.
And though I kept going...
I was beginning to realize exactly how far Texas actually was...
by foot.
There comes the time of day when you realize...
The day just turned the corner.
It’s on the downslope now.
Night is inevitable.
That time came for me.
It was still light, still a whole lot of light.
Still bright light...
But you knew... this one is done for.
It is in the record books.
And what have you done with it?
And all that I could say was...
I think I have made an incredibly stupid decision...
But I have no choice to go on.
What will people think of me if I go back?
No, wait, get that out of your mind.
You ARE STILL going to Texas.
That’s right.
I am.
One foot in front of the other.
And another.
And another.
The cars are laughing at me now.
There is no sign on my back now saying how brave and risk taking I am.
There’s only one that says, “I am walking slower now. I am walking the walk of someone who does not want to give up.
Someone who will keep walking on a wrongheaded path even when he begins to wise up.
Not because he still believes in Texas or Success or succession or the Lost Cause or miracles or anything...
But because this is the course he has set himself on...
And no one can tell him he is wrong.”

It was then that the bread truck honked...
and slid around onto the gravel side of the road ahead of me and stopped.
What the hell was this new thing? A ride?
There! See that? Never, never, never give up!
And all will go well for you. Eventually.
I found the energy to run to the right side of the bread truck. The door was open.
”Climb in,” the man said, smiling. But it wasn’t an “I think you are an idiot” kind of smile. It was an “I’ve paid my dues kind of smile. And I’m glad I’m not having to anymore.”
I plopped my weary ass down on the engine cover beside the driver, and sighed. There was no passenger seat. And there I would ride as he pulled into the road again, already feeling the heat and the vibrations rise up from engine through the metal.
It was not comfortable and I could not relax. I had to hold on to the door frame to keep from falling off and out into the road, as the door was kept open because of the heat. There was no air conditioning in the truck.
But all in all, it sure beat walking.
Vehicle. Wonderful vehicle. I love you so much.
The man – maybe twenty or thirty years older than me, I don’t know, said, “Where you headed?”
I said “Texas,” though not with as much bravado as I would have answered had I been asked in the first few steps of my journey, away from the kiss on my girlfriend’s doorsteps...
where incidentally she may have gained the first clue that I was not too bright.
The driver nodded. “Long ways.”
Then he said, “Well, I can take you a ways. To this side of the state line anyway. Will that help?”
I told him “Yes. Thanks.”
I wasn’t in the mood to talk. I was busy having the inner conversation now, that I should have had before I left. It was going something like this, “YOU DUMB A**! DO YOU HAVE ANY F****** IDEA WHAT YOU ARE ABOUT TO DO?”
Which was the same thing I am sure my father was thinking when I told him I was leaving, but who, for some reason was understanding enough just to let me go and make my own mistake. After all, I wasn’t eleven, twelve, or even thirteen.
I was twenty years old. It wasn’t his fault I was retarded. Both he and my mother had done the best they could. And my straight D grades in high school had gotten me into the local college where I had completely further wasted their money.
I know they weren’t GLAD to see me go.
But maybe they realized that hardship was the only way I was going to grow.
I was too stupid to learn from others, or to think things out in advance for myself.

The miles went by slowly. Bread trucks are not high speed sports cars.
The driver didn’t talk much.
I liked that in a driver.
I didn’t want him to ask me anything, cause I didn’t want him to find out that I had just left a perfectly good home, a perfectly good girlfriend, and a perfectly good small town college...
to hitchhike to Texas with the delusion that I would do well out there without knowing any one at all. Not one single person.
Thank you, driver.
Instead, the only other thing I remember him saying and doing was this:
And it has lasted me a lifetime.
He started pulling off the road as we neared the Mississippi state line, and said, “Well, that’s about as far as I can take you. I’ve got to turn off here.”
I nodded, and waited as the bread truck rolled to a stop.
Then the unexpected happened. The thing that I will never forget to this day.
He reached into his pocket, and he pulled out everything he had in it.
A bunch of change.
He handed it to me.
And he said, “I just got out of prison not long ago... and I know how hard it is on the road. Take this money.”
I was stunned. And I’d like to say I was man enough to tell him, “No, Sir, You’ve had a much harder life than I have. You keep it and I wish I had more to give you for your kindness.”
But I was just a stupid little boy – a twenty year old boy – but one just the same.
And so I took the money. And simply said, “Thank you.”
Had to be macho. Couldn’t let him see his kind gesture had touched me so deeply.
I got out of the truck, he said “Bye” with that smile, and added, “Good Luck to you,”
and I just stood there for a moment.
He turned left and went straight South out toward the plains and high hills toward Red Bay, Alabama.
And I – I started walking again, that money in my hand.
I didn’t look at it then.
Cause I was growing up.
I was learning about human kindness. This lesson courtesy of a Bread Man. A truck driver who had served his time in prison – but who was not bitter about it. Or anything else.
He was a man whose heart had not been hardened by his time served but who could still stoop to help someone he saw as worse off than himself.
Then the truck was gone.

When I did look at the money later while walking, it was change as ordinary as any you have ever seen.
There was no age on it then at all, other than what happens to money that is not kept, but passed around freely. From one person to another quickly.
This money would no longer be done so.
At that time, I just put it in my pocket and started walking again.
But I was not so God d*** stupid that I did not realize
that that man had just done something extraordinary.
He was a man just out of prison, going home after a hard day’s work to his family...
and he had just given me everything he had in his pocket.
And I doubt there had been much else in his billfold.
I don’t know why, but something inside me even then told me that this money was “special” and to “Keep it separate – for some day down the road you will give it back to him a thousand fold.”
And I did keep it separate.
And I kept walking.
But my heart was not in it now.
I was going ahead on sheer determination and stubbornness now.
But the seed of failure was planted.
I must have gotten at least one more ride...
because I crossed the Mississippi state line,
went on through Iuka...
and someone long forgotten finally dropped me off on the near East outskirts of Corinth, Mississippi,
as they got on the overpass and headed North.
I was on my feet again.
I’d had a rest.
But now I was walking...
and the night was closing in.
And I had only made it about thirty-five miles from my home.
And Waco, Texas, my destination, was still hundreds of miles away, halfway across that giant state.
On the left up ahead was the Corinth, Mississippi bus station.
I was on the right side of the road.
I wouldn’t even let myself look at it. For the Greyhound dog painted on the sign was pointing back to Alabama.
Back to where I had been.
The life I had lived.
I kept walking.
I kept telling myself, I want to be rich. I want to be somebody.
But reality was telling me that would have to be tomorrow, if ever.
This night, my goal was now just not to quit.
To not be a quitter.
I would find somewhere to sleep
and tomorrow would look different.
Texas would somehow be closer.
Success would somehow seem easy again.
Now lights were passing me by, not cars. It was so dark I could not see them. I could not see the metal behind the lights, or the people inside the metal.
And I knew that this was as far as I was going to make it tonight.
I began to look for a place to lay my weary ass and legs down for awhile.
Yes, I would sleep. Then be on my way tomorrow.
There was a wooded area up ahead
and I thought I might not be disturbed there...
by other bums like me.
The place was right by a Holiday Inn Hotel.
And I sat down by a tree
and I couldn’t miss the irony.
There, fifty yards away from me was the back of a hotel.
Nice rooms inside, clean sheets, a hot shower, and maybe even room service.
I however, was by a tree.
I had a few dollars in my billfold...
and the money the driver had given me.
That was all.
Holiday Inn was out of the question.
It was a dream in a far away land, or might as well have been.
I lay down by the tree.
The ground was hard.
It was getting chilly...
And I was wising up...
but it was too late this night to make amends with my idiocy.
Tonight I would have to pay for my stupidity.
And I did.
I fought and fought to relax and sleep on the ground and grass...
but the ring announcer in the fight was saying,
”You are too stupid for words, my friend...
Or you would not be here.”
Finally, I said to him and myself,
”You are right.”
And I got up, and with no ceremony for such a loser as myself,
I left the wooded area and the Holiday Inn,
crossed to the other side of the road,
and walked back to the bus station.
I was beaten.
This was my Appomattox.
And as a Southerner, we all still have them.
All different. But one per man and woman.
I went in under the dog sign, and asked the ticket man how much it was to “Back Home,”
and he told me.
I barely had enough.
And I bought the ticket...
But not with the Prison man’s money...
but with my own.
His money I kept in my pocket,
and in my possession,
from that night,
until now...
forty-two years later.

When I got home that morning back then...
My parents said nothing.
They were just happy to see me, and welcomed me home with smiles.
They rubbed nothing in.
Great people. Both of them.
The idiot son was home...
safe.
I took off all my sweat soaked clothes,
took a wonderful shower,
and then prepared to sleep all day.
And all night.
And I did.
And I never again made another “F” in college.

I make a decent living now.
I support my wife, a wonderful daughter, three dogs and two cats and various birds and squirrels that consider our wooded home theirs as well, and who are fat and happy on our birdseed and bread crumbs..
I have never been to prison.
Knock on wood.
The last time I looked at the Bread Man’s money, several years ago...
a lot of the pieces had eroded and corroded and rusted.
Some you could not even tell what they were anymore. Forty years is a long time.
But they were all there,
every cent the man gave me.
And they were still in the same white envelope I put them in
when I got home all those years ago, though it had long since turned old and yellow.
And the name I wrote on it –
his name which he told me –
is still on it.
A name burned into my memory forever.
I have kept his money all this time,
because of a dream I had even way back then...
the moment he gave it to me.
You see, I never gave up my dream of someday becoming wealthy...
and I always told myself,
someday I will find that man who was so kind to me,
and pay him back a thousand fold.
And over the years as it didn’t happen, I came to realize...
he may not be alive any more.
He would be in his seventies or eighties or maybe even his nineties...if he is.
But then I thought
even if he isn’t he surely has descendants...
and I would like to give them
the original money he gave me
and more...
If I am ever able.
And it would be wonderful if I could tell you that at this moment,
I am able now.
But it would not be true.
But my quest is not over
and until it is...
I still hold the dream
That someday I will give back a lot
to a man who gave me all he could spare.

That night at the bus station the bus did not leave to take me home right away
just because I had come to my senses.
I had to wait until the next morning.
And I stayed awake the whole time.
I had plenty of time to think.
And I would like to tell you now, that after that I never did another stupid thing
in my life...
but that would be a damn lie.
But one mistake I never made...
was spend that man’s money.
Because from that first day it has never been money to me.
It is and has always been proof,
of the wonderful spirit a man can have in him,
even if he has been to prison.
It showed me you can do a lot of stupid and possibly even bad things...
and even be cast in with people who are evil...
and still come out with a heart that is able to love.
This man, whose name was only known to me all these years...
and who I have now dedicated this story to...
is proof of that.
And if I don’t reach my goal of someday
returning a blessing upon the man or to his family...
I have done the best I could.
I didn’t make it to Texas...
but I wrote about a good man
And this is what I wrote.
Don’t forget him.
I never will.
Goodnight, Bread Man.
And Thank You
from the bottom of my heart
For your unselfish
and unforgotten
act of kindness to a total stranger.
Me.
And know this:
My life is not over yet.
And I still have your money...
Waiting to return to you.
— Will Bevis, 2012

After listening to Will's story detailing the actions of a good samaritan, I said, "We have to find Clifford Fountain. Time's running out."

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But Will said, "No." He remains resolute in his plan to return Clifford Fountain's kindness with a small fortune some day. I admit, I've googled the name and looked for clues, but I will not interfere with his plan. I made a promise to Will that night, and I'm not in the business of breaking my promises.

Thank you, Will Bevis, for sharing your story with me and allowing me to share it with my many Project Keepsake readers. I believe your story will prompt many people to think about goodness, selfless acts, stereotypes, mistakes, and starting over. Most of all, I hope your story will inspire others to write about their own experiences.

"The Bread Man," and many other of Will's stories such as "The Killing of Train-Man Brown," "Send Me a Friend," and "Then Her Wig Fell Off," can be downloaded from the Kindle store. There have been over 55,000 downloads of his work, and there will be thousands more, I'm sure. Click here to view a listing of Will's work. He also has a website at willbevis.com, and you can follow him on Twitter @WillBevis.

As always, keep storytelling alive, my friends. To read more keepsake stories or learn to write your own keepsake story, consider buying a signed copy of Project Keepsake. The link is on the left. And feel free to contact me about hosting a Project Keepsake presentation or workshop in your community.

Thanks for visiting! Hope you stop by again in the future.

Her Daddy's Black Bag

I graduated from Warner Robins High School (WRHS) in Middle Georgia way back in 1983. After graduation, most of my classmates scattered like dandelion spores taken by a sudden gust of wind. We landed in all corners of the world. But through the magic of Facebook, I still have contact with many of these fine folks.

Shari Herrin Bergmann wrote about her daddy's black medical bag.

Shari Herrin Bergmann wrote about her daddy's black medical bag.

Every now and then, I get a note from an old classmate telling me about one of his or her keepsakes. Back in November after I encouraged Facebook friends and Twitter followers to enter the Project Keepsake story contest, I heard from WRHS Class of 1983 alumna, Shari Herrin, although she is Shari Bergmann now.

Shari was not only pretty in high school, but she was also genuinely kind. She always wore a smile on her face when I passed her in the crowded hallways as we shuffled and streamed from one class to the next. I was thrilled to hear from her and hear about her keepsake—or keepsakes.

Shari mentioned two keepsakes in her possession—her father's black doctor's bag and his old stethoscope. I was very interested and asked her to send me a little more information and a photo. She complied.

So, want to know more about her daddy's black bag? Here's what Shari sent to me.

My keepsake is my fathers black doctor’s bag and stethoscope he used while in the Air Force as a Physician’s Assistant. My father gave me the scope when I was pregnant with my son twenty-five years ago, so I could listen to his heartbeat.

My mother gave the bag to me shortly after my father passed away. They are both reminders that I hold near and dear to my heart.

I also used the scope while going through my EMT training six years ago.
— Shari Herrin Bergmann, 2014
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I like the fact that Shari shared two specific memories connected to her daddy's black bag and its stethoscope—that she remembers hearing her son's tiny, life-filled heartbeat with the stethoscope and that she used the stethoscope in her quest to become an Emergency Medical Technician. Reading Shari's story, I couldn't help but think that her father's profession and the keepsake had something to do with her decision to serve the public as a life-saving professional in Ohio.

Shari also shared a bit of good news with me. She is expecting her first grandchild in April. I wonder if she has listened to the baby's heartbeat with her daddy's stethoscope. I bet she has.

Thank you, Shari, for sharing a little about your keepsake with me. I hope you have a wonderful year.

Do you have a keepsake? If so, share its story with friends, family, and the world. Keep storytelling alive. If you don't know where to start, consider buying a copy of Project Keepsake. The book's fifty-five short keepsake stories are examinations of why we keep the objects we keep. The last chapter takes you through the process of writing your own story.

To order a signed copy, click the link on the right. Happy reading! Happy writing!

A Bible Story—Jen Kominsky's Keepsake

As I've roamed around the South asking people to talk about their keepsakes, several people have told me about Bibles. In Warner Robins, Jim Gilreath showed me an heirloom Bible passed to him from his great-grandfather, Jonathan Jeremiah Gilreath. It looked like something that should be viewed under glass at the National Archives. In Calhoun, Missionary Janie Aker showed me her Bible and told me the story of her Aunt Mattie Bell and how the Bible changed Janie's life trajectory.  I, too, have a Bible keepsake. 

Jen Kominsky writes about her keepsake—a Bible given to her by her grandmother. 

Jen Kominsky writes about her keepsake—a Bible given to her by her grandmother. 

On Christmas of 1976, my parents gave my siblings and me leather-bound Bibles with our names stamped in gold lettering on the covers. During my youth, I carried my Bible to Bonaire First United Methodist Church each and every Sunday and read along with Reverend Tom Ivey as he read the scripture of the day to our small congregation. I loved that little white church and everyone in the congregation. 

Today, there are small keepsakes tucked inside my little, worn Bible. In Ezekiel 39, two gift tags from Moore's Department Store are wedged between the thin pages. These tags adorned wedding gifts from my Grandmother Jarriel and my Great-Aunt Nadine. Each tag displays their shaky, loving handwriting.

At Numbers 15, I keep a crisp fifty dollar bill—a wedding gift from my Uncle Edwin and Aunt Monteen. I don't know why I put the money in my Bible instead of spending it, but it has been in that position since 1990 and I guess it will stay there.

So when I received Jen Kominsky's story about her Bible, I was curious where her Bible came from and what memories it contained from her past. She attached a photo of her Bible turned to Psalm 23, a psalm of David. I've always been attracted to that Psalm, with its strong, powerful imagery—valley of the shadow of death, a cup running over, etc.

I love Jen's story, and I think you will, too. It's titled, "The Key to my Past." Her story won honorable mention in November's keepsake story contest. Enjoy!

My Oma passed away earlier this year. I inherited her Bible. The Bible is thirty years old. It has become my most prized keepsake, and I hold it near and dear to my heart.

I actually took possession of the Bible while I was saying goodbye to her. She had been sick, and fortunately, I was able to share a few days with her before she died. The morning my mom called me to tell that Oma had passed, I immediately opened the Bible. I found comfort in running my fingers over the glossy pages. I read the notes scribbled in the margins written in her and my grandfather’s handwriting.

I skimmed through to the bookmarks they had placed. I read their favorite verses.

The Bible carries the scent of their house. Opening that Bible opens the door to my past. I am transported right back to my grandparents’ living room. I can remember the Bible was always on their coffee table. I felt love and warmth sitting in that room.

I can hear my grandparents’ laughter and see their grinning faces. I can feel their arms wrapped around me in a loving embrace. I can see sleepovers in the summer with the house filled with my cousins. I can taste the melt-in-your-mouth cookies we always shared over a cup of hot tea. I can remember rolling down the big hill in their front yard. I can remember always feeling completely safe in my grandparents’ home.

I smile through the tears because while holding that special book in my lap, I feel connected to them. Anytime I need to feel close to them I turn to that Bible. It helps me feel grounded. Who knew that one book would mean so much to me. I will always cherish that Bible.
— Jen Kominsky, 2014
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Jen is a busy wife and mom who writes and blogs from Virginia. She's passionate about fitness and healthy living. And of course, she is the keeper of her Oma's Bible—a priceless keepsake containing rich, beautiful memories. Check out Jen's blog, JVKom Chronicles, at www.JVKom.com.

Thank you, Jen, for sharing your story with Project Keepsake.

Do you have a keepsake? I know you do. Don't delay, share your story with your family, friends, and others. Keep storytelling alive.

To read more short keepsake stories, consider purchasing a signed copy of Project Keepsake, a collection of fifty-five stories examining why we keep the objects we keep. Click the link on the right. It's on sale with no shipping charges.