Big Mama’s Photo Memory Book Becomes a Family Treasure
“Big Mama,” as we affectionately called our grandmother, wasn’t getting around nearly as fast as she used to. She wasn’t able to walk to the community grocer with her rolling cart anymore. And, when she wore a favorite floral print sweater that I had given her, it wasn’t as “pressed” and pristine as it always was. Big Mama, who wasn’t BIG at all, had always been so trim, spry and bubbly. Now it was apparent that her independence was waning and she was no longer able to outpace old age.
Big Mama knew just how to make each child and grandchild feel uniquely special. We all realized just how wonderful she was, so I got to thinking of ways to honor her while she was still able to enjoy it. She was from a big family, having 10 siblings. She had given birth to six children, who now had their own children and grandchildren. So I set out on an ambitious quest to gather info and pictures of her relatives and ancestors to assemble a photo memory book chronicling her life. I planned to present it on her 92nd birthday that September.
Big Mama's Memory Book
. I began by talking to elders in order to understand the timeline of the family. I was stunned when relatives traced her lineage all the way back to her grandmother named Adeline. She was born a slave and lived more than a century. I even secured a photo of Adeline. Big Mama’s siblings and their children sent me an avalanche of vintage photos of her parents, her brothers and sisters, uncles, nieces and nephews, grands and great grands. They sent me original photos from their albums, dresser drawers, shoe boxes and timeworn trunks in the attic. Many of the photos were fragile, faded and frayed. Two were antique photographs on metal plates. I was careful to copy photos as I received them since some were irreplaceable. I returned them as soon as possible to their owners.
I arranged the album in chronological order and included historical tidbits throughout the book. I had collected so many photographs that I had to buy a 3-inch binder to hold them all. I was so elated with what I had achieved at that point. I realized that I had to create a cover that was befitting of the treasure trove of family memories inside. I knew then that I would not be able to complete the project for her birthday in September, so I decided to make it a Christmas present. I began to collect swatches of scenic cloth depicting important images of her life. She was raised on a farm, so I collected fabrics showing chickens, cows and hogs. She always had a pet dog and she liked to feed the neighborhood cats. When she walked on a sunny day, she carried her “parasol” to keep the sun off her face. Being a preacher’s widow, she never missed church on Sunday. She liked hanging her clothes out to dry in the fresh air. You’d rarely see her not wearing an apron, and believe it or not, she continued to cook on a wood-burning stove and chopped her own wood until she was well into her 80s! I decided to use my limited quilting skills to create a custom cover for the book as an illustration of her life.
When I placed the last picture that I had, I realized that the book would never be complete. The circle of life that is our family will continue to grow and expand. As each new member of our family is born, so is another chapter of our book. We presented the memory album to Big Mama at church on Christmas Sunday. Because of her advanced age, she didn’t seem quite as excited about it as I’d hoped she would be. I wasn’t sure if she really grasped everything that was going on. But she took it home and as she browsed through it, the photos began to spark long-ago memories. Each relative who came to visit wanted to see the book and would sit down with Big Mama to reminisce.
I was touched by the outpouring of family support. The project allowed me to connect with relatives that I had never known. Some of them began to consider launching a similar project for their ancestors. And even though our beloved Big Mama is no longer with us in body, she lives on through our family treasure—a Living Book that has been passed on to me. I am continuing to add special photos to the album in honor of the new generation. And when I reach the end of my life you will find the memory book in the possession of my children, enjoying our pictorial history and carrying on the legacy.
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Read about Big Mama's parents
- Pa Jim and Granny Rose: Rock Solid Ancestors Build Strong Foundation for Family Values
Who is that tenacious couple in the sepia photographs? Read the interesting and amusing story of Your Cousins ancestors.