To us she was just “Mom”, until we found the green velvet box

In our Kin Keepers writing workshops we hear many incredible anecdotes as people begin to share with other participants before they start to write.  As a workshop leader with a weakness for stories, it can be hard not to sit down and spend the whole two hours listening to one person speak eloquently about a mother or grandfather—there are ten other participants with equally fascinating things to share!

Let me give you just one example.

Marlena came to the Kin Keepers workshop with a small album of photos.  They were a sampling, she said, of the larger photo collection she and her sister had found when they had to clean out their mother’s closets after her passing.

“To us she was just ‘Mom’”, Marlena told me, “until we found the green velvet box.”

I was intrigued.  A mysterious box!  “Tell me more,” I asked her.


Mom had married late, and had given birth to me and my sister Jess when she was almost 40, kind of unusual in those days. She was very much a stay-at-home mother, doing the traditional housewife things like cooking, cleaning, hosting family dinners, and all that.

What she really seemed to love, however, was helping us with our homework.  She always seemed to “know stuff”, as my sister and I would say—and those were long before the days of Internet searches!  No matter if it was math, science, geography, history, she not only knew how to explain the stuff in our textbooks, but could add a little more:  more examples, more facts, more historical tidbits.

Jess and I just took all that for granted, and were grateful for the extra help that gave a boost to our grades!  But we never asked how she knew all that.

Anyways, skip ahead to five years ago when she passed away and we had to put her house up for sale.  In behind cardboard boxes labelled “miscellaneous” or “the girls’ things” we noticed a box we’d never seen before.  It was about the size of the standard moving box, but it was covered in dusty green velvet fabric, a bit frayed at the corners.

We expected to find more knickknacks or more Christmas decorations, but we were shocked to see it was full of photos, newspaper clippings and documents.

“Who is the woman in all these photos?” Jess wondered out loud.  I stared at the photos for several seconds before I realized they were all of Mom.  And the clippings and documents all had her name mentioned in them.

Some photos showed Mom flying a small plane.  Some showed her as part of a group in a desert, all the people carrying picks or shovels. A few showed her in a museum, receiving an award of some sorts.

Then we looked through the documents.  A flying certificate. A degree in Archeology. A certificate of appreciation from a museum in Africa.

And the clippings!  Jess and I moved some boxes away and sat on the floor to read them.  Articles about a discovery she helped make.  An opinion piece she had written about the need to not remove artifacts from the countries they were found in, and one on the need to respect the local workers hired for the sites.

It struck us that we had had no idea about who Mom had been before us.  Her “pre Mom” years had been silent, in a way, until now.  And sadly, these documents and photos were all we had to tell us the story.

“We should have asked her more,” I said, “should have asked her to write things down.”

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      The Kin Keepers are those family members who know all the family’s stories, and pass them along to the next generations.  They remember the birthdays, plan the celebrations, and make the calls to see that everyone is okay. Their spirit of kinship is what keeps the family together and strong

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