A few weeks ago, my mother found an old book in our basement and gave it to me (I guess I should stop calling it “our” basement since it’s been 15 years since I’ve lived in my parents’ house.) It was a memory book of questions with answers hand-written by my grandmother in 1984. The book is called “The Grandparent Book” and was meant as a gift to my sister and me. My grandmother and I had been very close when I was younger, but she passed away in 1998.
Grandmum wrote in the book about growing up in London and living through the Great Depression and the Blitz of World War II. She talks about having “an amazingly happy childhood” even though they never had cake or presents for birthdays, wore only hand-me-down clothes, and could only afford to eat chicken once a year, on Christmas. The questions in the book ask about her life chronologically, from her childhood to her married life, and then move onto more philosophical inquiries about her thoughts and opinions. She even mentions her favorite movies and books. And I had never realized how painful it was for her to leave her family behind when she moved to the U.S. to get married.
Imagine finding such a gem from one of your loved ones who is no longer with you. Needless to say, it’s of incalculable value. I’m so happy my mom found it. It even has a bonus value since I work for a company devoted to this idea – we always appreciate getting ideas for different ways of preserving memories.
There are some big problems with the book, though. First, it was hidden in my parents’ basement for over 20 years. It’s too easy to misplace, and now I’m trying to be super careful with it.
Second, we still only have one physical copy. This means that even though it was meant as a gift for my sister and me, only one of us can actually keep it. My mother, who of course misses her own mother even more than my sister and I miss her, can’t hold on to a copy, either.
Third, I wish I could have commented on my grandmother’s answers and asked follow-up questions. Even more importantly, I wish I could have answered similar questions myself and shared them with her. They would have made for some good discussions, and deepened the bond we had. But it hadn’t occurred to me to discuss those particular issues at the time.
To me, this perfectly encapsulates the need for a digital memory book like Proust. No one should have to wait until after a loved one’s death to get to know them better. That’s why I’ve connected with my other grandmother on Proust, and we’ve been sharing lots of stories. Why do you use Proust? And what physical reminders of memories from your family members do you hold on to that you wish could be digital?