I, like everyone else I know beyond a certain age, have a small box of things that belonged to my mother. These things have no real monetary value. They may not have had any real sentimental value to my mother, but I keep them. I used to open the box every so often to touch them, but as I get older I find that I open it less and less often.
At some point every present moment fades away into memory. Some of the present is significant to enough people to become part of the collective memory that we call history. Memories and history, without artifacts to prove their occurrence, fade into legends or myths or into nothing at all. The days we spent at the beach, but never wrote about in our diaries… When we are gone no-one will even realize they were events that could have been remembered. They will be gone, too.
My mother, like most of the mother’s of the people I know, was not a part of history. She will not appear in text books. Her life will not be studied by generations of students. Unlike most mothers she also has no formal burying place, no memorial plaque, no tombstone. I don’t believe that anyone wrote an obituary. Maybe we did, but my memory is fading already. She might never have existed at all, except that I have a small box of things that belonged to her. This box is my own museum. These are the artifacts that prove her existence.
The world we live in now is more temporary than the world my mother knew. The photos we take of our beach vacations and the diary we keep of those sunny days are all stored in digital media, prone to failure and quickly lost to advances in technology. Family albums carefully preserved on betamax tapes. Birthday greetings recorded on reel-to-reel tapes. The thoughtful blog I maintained for all of a year on MySpace. Hundreds of letters sent through e-mail accounts attached to past jobs, obsolete services, defunct websites.
In my mother in law’s basement there are hundreds of boxes of things. Papers, VHS tapes, books, tools, stuffed animals… These things may have no real monetary value. They may have no real sentimental value to my mother in law, but she keeps them. She fears to throw any of them away, as if each object is an artifact that proves she not only exists NOW, but has existed all along.
The upstart watch and bicycle company where I live advertises their products as “Heirloom Quality”.
So buying that $750 quartz movement watch assembled in a struggling urban center gets you not only an overinflated sense of social accountability but something for your own children to place in the box that they keep in the back of their closet when you are gone. With an overpriced wrist watch, a collectible ornament from the Franklin Mint, a bracelet encrusted with the birthstones of your grandchildren you can extend your existence past your death.