As a writer, I discover so many things that evoke emotions. This summer, I was doing a COVID cleanout and found a treasure trove. My mother had saved all of my letters I sent to her when I was 20 and went to London. I spent the next couple of hours reacquainting with my 20-year-old self. Only I could read between the lines in those letters and know the true story behind all of those forgotten words.
So many of our memories are intangible, but artifacts – like the letters – are real accounts of times gone by. We are able to interact with these words, feelings and observations in real time. We can also find meaning in other non-literary items.
As I look around my kitchen, I find several artifacts of my life. The loaf pan, the “fancy” measuring spoons, the never-used espresso set…. These inanimate objects speak to me in ways that no one else can hear.
As a writer of creative nonfiction, I am fascinated by the power of everyday things. I can even look at a homemade Christmas ornament and be transported back to that central New York classroom in the 1980’s when I made it for my family. Here is an excerpt from a story I wrote about our Christmas trees growing up – yes, I said trees – we had two. One was the family’s tree and the other was Mom’s:
Mom’s tree was different. It had a theme – either silver or blue – and had beautiful ornaments. Although I viewed it as impersonal and a little too fancy, I get it now. This was Mom’s tree. All Mom’s. And she could do whatever the hell she wanted with it. This resonates with me so much this Christmas, as I am now a mom and missing my mom who we lost in 2016. If I could have her back now, I would gladly give her whatever kind of tree she’d like.
Christmas is different since she left us. Sometimes, I stare at our tree, and it reminds me of all we have lost. It brings up searing feelings of loneliness and grief. However, two things have brought me out of my haze. Obviously, the kids do not let me brood for long. However, this year, an article made me remember what the Christmas season is all about.
Invite them in – despite the recipe you burned, no matter the dirty house or sink full of dishes. No one will remember these things. All of these imperfections make a home. The love and kindness will be the souvenirs.
Gather up your things and write about them. Share your stories! We need to hear them.
ABOUT ELIZABETH: Elizabeth Adinolfi West is Associate Professor of English at Central Piedmont Community College in Charlotte. She is also faculty advisor to the student creative writing organization, SWAG. Elizabeth published an essay about her son in Chicken Soup for the Soul: Hopes and Miracles. She writes a weekly blog entitled “Turning Arrows into Flowers” at elizabethwest.com.
GET INSPIRED WITH ELIZABETH: Join Elizabeth for Recollecting Ourselves: Using Artifacts to Guide Your Writing on December 9th, from 6-8 PM in person at Charlotte Lit. Discuss finding artifacts from the past and get some guidance on how to create artifacts to fuel your writing. These artifacts can serve as inspiration for poetry, fiction, or creative non-fiction (memoir). See how much fun it can be reacquainting yourself with the past or planting seeds for future writers through the magic of artifacts. More information is here.