The Gift That Keeps on Giving

by Shannon Hembree on August 14, 2012

Imagine if you will…you walk into a darkened room. You jump when you hear the broken guitar burst spontaneously into song. You spot the doll watching you from across the room with its one good eye. The Barbie with the torn off leg jabs you in the foot when you try to cross the graveyard of toys. What is this horrifying place? It’s the remnants of birthdays and Christmases past. It’s the toys that fell out of favor or that couldn’t handle the realities of toddler playtime.

Rather than contribute to this vast wasteland of toys this Christmas (because let’s face it, the holiday marketing will begin in another week or two), what about shaking it up? What about giving the gift that keeps on giving? What about giving the gift of family history along with the personal stories that make the fabric complete?

And just what does that rambling paragraph mean? It means that I don’t care who you are, you have stories to tell – great stories that are unique to you. It means that whether tomorrow or in fifty years, you will be gone, and there will be no one else to tell your stories.

Case in point – my grandfather was in World War II. He used to tell this fabulous story about how he and his friends carried around a bottle of champagne to open together when the war was over. Of course all of them weren’t there when the war was over, but they did open it. And they all shared a laugh when they realized that the champagne had gone completely flat. I don’t remember the specifics of the story – but I do know that I should have had him write it down.

I also have a ring that he got while he was in Italy during the war (All you fortune hunters can stand down, its finish is fading, and it’s no doubt worth next to nothing – except to me.). He gave it to me for my high school graduation. It was the most precious gift he could have given me (with the exception of tuition for my high school and college, which my grandparents helped me pay for, and for which I will be forever grateful). What I didn’t know is that the day would come when even more precious would be the story behind the ring. Where did he get it? When did he get it? I’ll never know.

I am also old enough now to understand the value of family health histories. We all know the big details – who died of cancer or who had another major health issue. But, do you know the smaller details that are also important? Do you know when your mom started menopause or whether or not your dad had glaucoma? Maybe your grandma and grandpa died suddenly in an accident – you might know that story, but not that they both had horrible heart disease. These are details that are important in our lives – and to our lives for that matter – and that information can be invaluable. Sadly, however, so often we don’t talk about this vital information with older generations, nor do we pass it on to our kids. And if we do talk about it, we don’t write it down.

So the next time there is a birthday or holiday for a child in your life, consider giving a gift that doesn’t wind up in the toy wasteland. Consider giving a gift that keeps on giving. Take an empty journal and start filling it. Fill it with stories. Fill it with serious family history. Fill it with trivial details that will make future generations laugh, or cry, or know a little bit about the person in the pictures. Fill it with health histories that may or may not prove to be important later. Kids may not appreciate it when they are young – but there will come a time when it will be far more valuable than any legless Barbie or broken down truck. And more importantly, write these things down now, because no matter how old or how young you are – the one thing we do know about life is that it is uncertain. And just like that giant piece of chocolate cheesecake you inhaled last week – it seems so wonderfully expansive at first glance, but it goes faster than you think and will be gone before you know it.

Shannon Hembree embraces both chocolate cheesecake and life. She is great at starting journals for her kids, but wishes she was better at actually updating them. You can follow her on Twitter @shannon1hembree.

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