With our first son, we had a middle name picked out well before we had a first name decided. My husband is Eric Charles, after his grandfather, Charles Thomas, aka Pop. It was a no brainer, our boy would be _____ Charles. (General Charles? Major Charles? River Charles? Peabody Earnest Hemmingway Poe Charles? 🙂
Not too long after our Luke Charles arrived, I asked his grandmother if she would mind jotting down some memories of his namesake and scrounging up a few photos for his baby book. She obliged, and because I had no idea what to do after that, they’ve been tucked away for some 6 years now, as memories often are.
I have been longing for a while though to figure out some way to make my boys’ heritage more real to them, to drag the photos and heirlooms out of hiding and make them a part of our everyday life. Only, I haven’t been real sure how to help such little people understand the power and importance of family that to them, are simply stern black and white images of strangers. Your father’s mother’s father…. your father’s mother’s sister’s uncle’s friend’s neighbor?
I think though, that I might have finally come up with something that could work well for our family. Something that I think will hold some tangible meaning for little people.
I bought a mini scrapbook, and we put Pop’s photo in the hole on the cover. I slowly read over the notes that Grandmother had made for Luke, pausing to hear their questions and thoughts. (What are ammunitions? – after hearing that he worked in factory during World War II. What is carpentry? – after hearing that he learned this skill from his father.)
The boys chose the parts that they deemed important and dictated them for me. (just ignore the cruddy handwriting please… it’s the thought, right?) They added their own illustrations.
A few things spoke to my men:
They noted that he had all girls, and while he loved all four, he was very excited to welcome a grandson. “Mommy maybe we’ll have some girls for you to play with.” (Or grandsons, I said, spoiling grandsons would be wonderful too!)
Pop owned a small but very popular store, the “Hinky Dinky.” They thought this was super cool, so we spent half the day playing store. They put price tags on everything within reach. They gave thought to their inventory and marketing. They decided to open a lunch counter. They debated whether or not they would make customers pay to use the restrooms. They connected, in some small way with their Pop’s life.
They also noted that Pop used to like to get all his family together and grill burgers. Most important, and endearing in their eyes, he LOVED ice cream, especially peach. In fact, he gave their Daddy his first ever taste of the stuff.
So, of their own volition, they decided that we needed to find a good recipe for peach ice cream, make some burgers, and invite Grandmother over to see our book and share more stories about Pop.
Bingo! I think we’re getting it!
Their Daddy remembered that Pop liked to carry around M&Ms in his pocket and sometimes even mailed him a small package of the candies. The boys really liked this idea and thought it would be fun to carry on the tradition by making little packages of M&Ms for their most loved friends and family. (Note how our memory making seems inextricably linked to our tastebuds)
We’re calling them Popgrams. Cuz you know, they need a catchy name.
We’re going to hang the book on a plate rack in our hall, so that we can see it everyday and get it down easily when we need a little Pop moment. We’re planning to fill that wall with lots of other little books about lots of other family members and memories.
The idea is to give our boys tangible ways to connect with loved ones, real touch-and-feel hooks on which to hang their memories. In that way, I hope that they will really understand the love, sacrifices, dreams and hard work that resulted in their being here, now. I hope that it will help them to know that they belong to something bigger than just this moment.
I think it’s working, because tonight at dinner, my James prayed, “Thanks, God, for Pop being a good Dad to Grandmother, so she could be a good Mom for our Daddy, so he would know how to take care of us.” And while we were eating, after his words had time to resonate, he said, “Mama kindness kind of spreads down in families, huh?”
There are so many days and moments when I think maybe I’ve gotten things all wrong, and then there are these merciful golden gems that make me think maybe we’re doing something a little bit right. If he takes away only that one thing, that the love he shows today will flow down through generations, that is enough for me.
So tell me, what are the simple, everyday ways that you help your kids connect with their heritage?