The Memory Keeper: A Tribute to My Mother
Do you know a memory keeper? The person in the family who captures a moment in time with a photo or video, sharing and displaying, collecting and keeping? I have the good fortune to be the daughter of a memory keeper.
As long as I can remember, my mother, Anna Mae Kelsey, had a camera in her hand, snapping photos of birthday parties, family vacations, babies. Those photos went into picture frames and albums. Her simple 8 millimeter movie camera, purchased in the 1950’s, captured priceless footage including this clip of me as a toddler with my grandfather, Edward Raymond Kelsey. He passed away when I was nine years old and my memories of him are sparse. I treasure this moment from a summer afternoon in 1964, on the front lawn of the land he homesteaded in Declo, Idaho.
Until the purchase of a “high tech” video camera in 1988, my mother recorded snippets in time with her small movie camera. The images are a little fuzzy and the lighting isn’t always great. But I’m grateful for my mother’s desire to keep the memories, because now I have a cherished collection of movie clips. Grandparents, parents, uncles, aunts, cousins, siblings, nieces, nephews, my husband, my babies: the people of my life are recorded in their place in time. As easy as it is today to take a quick video with our phones, are we remembering to record life’s important moments?
My mother, Anna, and her sister, Erma, both had box cameras as teenagers, probably a gift from their mother. The box camera named the “Brownie” was originally introduced by Kodak in 1900. The Brownie was inexpensive and became hugely popular.
Because of the Brownie camera, our ancestors started taking snapshots of daily life. The formal posed studio photographs of the late 1800’s gave way to photos of farms, cars, and everyday people. Inexpensive film and developing costs made photography affordable for everyone.
On her 13th birthday in 1941, my mother recorded in her diary:
“It’s my birthday. Went to school, then came home. Ermie gave me a pair of socks, fingernail polish, a roll of film and mother gave me a photo album.”
That photo album began my mother’s love of arranging her photos into albums. Her collection of photo albums takes up an entire bookshelf and because of her, our memory keeper, we have photos giving us a peek at her early life on the farm.
Looking through her collection, it would seem that she had the magic touch of nosing out photos from all sorts of family members. The photos range from the candid to the formal. Included are historical photos from the 1800’s and current photos from this year. Now at 89 years of age, she has slowed down in her photography duty, leaving that to her children and grandchildren and digital photography. She continues to work on her albums, though, keeping the family memories together.
What is the value of a photograph? The statement, “a picture is worth a thousand words” holds true as I thumb through her photo albums. There are my aunts and uncles. My grandparents. The farmhouse we visited every Sunday until my Grandmother’s passing. Each photograph telling a story.
My memory keeper mother not only kept her childhood family albums, but when she married my dad she began to collect the Shults family photos. Remarkable photos, fewer in number, but capturing people and places I never knew.
My grandmother, Ettie Belle Harris Shults, died much too young, at the age of 46. I gaze at her photo, longing to have met her. Thanks to my mother, I have this piece of Ettie’s life, picking cotton in 1930 Texas.
What are photos and videos without the stories? My mother also collected family histories. She painstakingly typed, photocopied, and assembled for me the histories of my Mormon pioneer ancestors. She encouraged her mother, Florence Creer Kelsey to write her history. She had my dad’s father, Charles Leslie Shults, record his stories, then she transcribed the recording. She wrote her history and encouraged my dad to write his. All of the family stories that she gathered, came to me.
Blessed with a plethora of family photos, movies, and stories I am determined to preserve them. To use them to tell my children and grandchildren the stories of their ancestors. Those who came before. I have become the memory keeper.