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More Than Just Stuff

You can never have too many possessions that preserve irreplaceable memories.
Two tiny pairs of bronze shoes have graced my mother’s dresser for three decades. While …

You can never have too many possessions that preserve irreplaceable memories.

Two tiny pairs of bronze shoes have graced my mother’s dresser for three decades. While other objects—candles, jewelry, picture frames—have come and gone, the shoes have never been replaced. That’s because they are actual pairs my sister and I wore as toddlers, preserved in bronze for the ages (or at least a generation or two). “I like them,” my mom tells me, “because they remind me of the pitter-patter of your little feet, when you would walk into our room and wake us up in the morning.”

I started pondering the power of keepsakes after chatting with Patrice Perine Lowe, the founder and CEO of Child to Cherish. The remarkable story behind her multi-million dollar gift company is not only a lesson in entrepreneurial success, it’s also a moving example of why mementos can be so powerful. Lowe, who tragically lost both of her parents as a teenager, spent the next decade taking care of her four younger brothers. Grieving the loss of their parents, Lowe’s siblings found themselves “searching for memories instead of creating them, as young children should do,” she recalls.

That’s why Lowe was so excited to find her siblings’ handprints still etched into the cement at her childhood home. Even though the new owner let her try to remove the prints, it was impossible to do without cracking the cement. It was a bittersweet moment for Lowe, since it also served as the inspiration for her first product: a plaster handprint kit in a tin. Thanks to her creation, moms and dads can now carry the classic keepsake from home to home. While it’s a memento that many kids craft in kindergarten, Lowe was savvy enough to realize that many parents would appreciate the opportunity to create the plaster prints at an earlier age. Almost 30 years later, the company’s many customers (and imitators!) prove that she was absolutely correct.

Maybe, as in Lowe’s case, it takes the absence of mementos to recognize their importance. I think my mother would agree. My youngest sister, Ashley, died four days after she was born of Trisomy 13, a chromosomal condition that can now be detected early in pregnancy. Some years around Ashley’s birthday, my mother pulls out the only keepsakes she has—a lock of hair, ink footprints and a letter from the nurse who took care of my sister for the four days she lived.

Maybe that’s also why my mother has overcompensated with me and my sister: In addition to the bronze shoes, there are misshapen pieces of pottery we crafted in pre-school still decorating the house, as well as an abundance of family photos crowding every shelf. Every year in December we received ornaments engraved with our names, as well as a special set of pajamas on Christmas Eve. And, my mother confesses, she still has the red dresses my sister and I wore for our first holiday photo together (matching, of course).

If the children’s industry is any indication, my mom isn’t the only one stockpiling her kids’ keepsakes. As Lowe points out, retailers large and small are expanding their gift offerings. What used to be a market limited to silver spoons and Christening gowns has grown to include everything from personalized piggy banks to thoughtfully packaged layette sets. After all, clothing and accessories can often be a fad-driven, low-cost purchase—easily donated or tossed out from one season to the next. Meaningful mementos, however, will never be disposable. They are inexorably tied to memories, which, as Lowe and my mom can tell you, are priceless.

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