Boite à souvenirs

Boite à souvenirs

I’ve always kept a memory box. None of your nicely curated ones with the pretty covers, neatly annotated photos and properly catalogued albums. Just the random flotsam and jetsam of my life.

Somewhere in our basement is a collection of boxes, battered and bruised. They contain the memorabilia of growing up, the bits and pieces I’ve found it necessary to keep over the years. Always with the vague idea that, one day, I would look fondly through these things and remember that one particular moment: this elation, that heartbreak, the time we… The broken guitar string. The cigarettes I believed I’d never give up.

Thankfully I did quit, and my broken heart mended. And though I never seem to find time to sort through all the keepsakes, I roost upon them like a clucking hen, hoping that one day they’ll hatch into something.

In among the boxes are photos, unsorted, mostly in the envelopes they used to come in when you picked them up from the drug store. What? Yes, mes enfants, we did that.

There are birthday greetings and farewell cards, both funny and corny. Party invitations, concert ticket stubs, student travel cards. There are yearbooks with messages earnest and flip from people I went to school with and have mostly forgotten. Crude comments from clever boys. There is an impassioned letter with an embarrassingly bad poem written by a doorman in London whose heart I apparently stole with my ‘face like an elfin grove.’

There are poems and lyrics of my own, a few that got published in high school reviews. There are my on-again, off-again journals – the sporadic ramblings that kept me sane pre-blog era.

There are the letters – ah, the letters! – exchanged over months of overseas correspondence with a certain Frenchman. And the postcard that changed everything. The one that made me decide he was serious.

There are the family mementos, the cards my kids made for Mother’s Day. Souvenirs of holidays in France and trips back to Canada. Ghosts of Christmas past.

The boxes have gotten thinner of late. Now most of our memorabilia is online. This makes me sad. Nothing can replace the treasures hidden inside my memory box.

Recently I’ve dug through some of it, pulling out pieces I needed for my memoir. So far, though, most of my memorabilia has yet to be released from its boxed purgatory. But I’m glad I saved it, every last bit.

Photo: Robert de Jong

Thanks to Colin Bisset, whose excellent blog recently reminded me of the importance of keeping a journal.

Do you keep a memory box?


  1. davidprosser · August 24, 2017

    I’m afraid my memory box was/is the house. It lies pretty much where it’s been left except for the photos which I used to cover one wall of my lounge so that I see memories of events and people important to me. I do love looking at that wall.
    xxx Massive Hugs Mel xxx

    • MELewis · August 24, 2017

      What a beautiful idea, to live in your own memory box! I see what you mean, and can just imagine your wall of family photos. It also reminds me of Dorothy dreaming her house is transported by the hurricane. Très imagé, as we say. Your blog is also a memory box as it contains so many lovely photos of the grandkids, vignettes and tales from your life. Thanks for sharing, as ever. Massive hugs right back at you! xo

  2. coteetcampagne · August 24, 2017

    I keep a scatter of memories in various forms, but not in any specific box.
    Wish I could find which specific box my damn dessert glasses were, or my dinner guests tonight will be getting their lemon and orange parfait in s breakfast bowl!

    • MELewis · August 24, 2017

      Ha, ha…I’m sure it will be delicious, ‘peu importe’ the vessel. Lemon and orange parfait sounds just that to me!

  3. eyelean · August 24, 2017

    I keep a file called “personal”… it has letters, cards, all the cards from when our baby was born, a copy of the Charly Hebdo after the attack, etc, and a little notebook I’m supposed to glue ticket stubs and wedding invitations into from time to time! It’s a bit haphazard but at least I know where it all is! As for stuff from before the past ten years I’m afraid it’s all mostly somewhere at my parents’ house.

    • MELewis · August 24, 2017

      Nice collection from recent years. The problem with the parents’ house is that it can be a bit far….my kids still keep boxes of stuff at ours, which I’m happy to stow for now, while we have space. What a great idea to have kept clippings from recent events like the Charlie Hebdo attack. I’m afraid I’ve tossed all mine. 😦

  4. phildange · August 24, 2017

    Particular how our heart and mind create a unique mood of feeling and existing when we open a certain door, isnt’it ? I never could put words on it but it is real and strong for sure, something like what made the blues exude from poor artists along the Mississipi valley .
    I have no box, it would be too much of a hard drug for me to stand, but about once every two or three years I go alone to the little seaside town where I was a kid and a teen and I walk in the many little places that were the settings of my personal movie, letting this mysterious feeling grow and fill my being, giving birth to endless and never expected living memories .
    Good medicine for the Palefaces who can afford it, cheaper than mescaline and undetectable by any uniformed pain in the neck .

    • MELewis · August 24, 2017

      I also love to return to special places from my past. I call it taking a trip down memory lane, and do it whenever time and travel allow. But only when there’s a bit of distance — memories too fresh are painful. We just went back to the house we sold in 2011 for the first time and it was almost okay. Before that, I wasn’t ready. You’re right, a memory box can be as powerful as a drug. And woohoo, it’s legal! 😀

  5. Osyth · August 24, 2017

    I have one box with edited memories from each of the children and from my own childhood. Much of what I had I either willfully abandoned along the way or was lost in transit during one or other move. I don’t regret not having the things per se because I believe that the memories are all part of the fabric that is me but I do sometimes get a fleeting moment as I did yesterday when I remembered a particular Christmas stocking when I was aged about 10 – amongst all the booty was a plastic mousse-pot that had been filled with plaster of Paris into which was poked a little branch. The whole thing was sprayed gold and sprinkled with glitter. It was entirely useless and vaguely odd. But I knew instantly that it would have been bought by my Granny at a bazaar in one of the local villages out of a need to spend her budget and make sure that she spread her favours around all the stall holders. That was the moment when I truly understood that Father Christmas was not a bearded man but much better, he was the love of my mother and my grandmother and whatever was contained in the bag was inconsequential compared with the meaning behind the gifts. I kept the strange tree for seemingly ever and I have no idea when it was lost. Thinking of it makes me happy-sad. Your post is beautiful and has churned up so many sweet thoughts and I thank you xx

    • MELewis · August 24, 2017

      Honoured that my post provoked such feelings – as evidenced by your comment which is worthy of a post on its own! I can just see your Granny at that Christmas market. And the sweet little tree. Oh to be able to swoop back into past lives for just a glimpse of how we once were!

      • Osyth · August 24, 2017

        That would be a super-power I would embrace in a heartbeat and yet then I would have said phooey … we progress in good ways methinks 🙂

  6. francetaste · August 24, 2017

    Like davidprosser, my memory box was my parents’ house. My mom kept everything, sometimes on purpose, in an organized way, but most often just procrastinating getting rid of stuff. When my parents died, I went for one last tour of the house, rifling through boxes. I found a crocheted vest my grandma had made me (remember those from the ’70s?), my 8th grade graduation dress my mom had made, and many other things that brought memories flooding back.
    I have kept a few things from my kid’s childhood. Mostly drawings. A couple of cherished toys. I used to write to my mom about everything that my kid did, which made for a kind of journal. I love going back to read it.

    • MELewis · August 24, 2017

      What a lovely souvenir to have kept those letters to your mom. And I do remember those crocheted vests. Flower power!

  7. acflory · August 24, 2017

    I think I’m like David, my memory box is the house and garden. Every pet I’ve loved and lost [as an adult] was buried beneath a rose bush and those rose bushes have travelled with me for almost 30 years. Along with the photos and some of Mum’s pots and pans, and pieces of furniture that Dad french polished, these are my memories, my visual history. 🙂

    • MELewis · August 24, 2017

      What a story those rose bushes could tell! It would never have occurred to me to move a plant or bush when I leave a place. But it makes perfect sense – they too are part of our living ‘memory box’. You and David must have shared ancestry!

      • acflory · August 25, 2017

        -giggles- Not ancestry but perhaps vintage. 😀

  8. Lisa @ cheergerm · August 24, 2017

    A beautiful and thoughtful post Mel. My memory box is also probably my entire house along with one or two cardboard boxes and a ‘shedload’ of old photo albums. I need to sort through it and perhaps cull but on the other hand, maybe I don’t.

    • MELewis · August 24, 2017

      So right, Lisa. Sorting implies culling, and sometimes it’s best to leave the jumble. I suspect your house is a very homey place and a wonderful memory box. x

  9. Robert De Jong · August 24, 2017

    Thank you for using my picture on your blog! It was made on the beach of the Island “Terschelling” in the North of The Netherlands.

    • MELewis · August 24, 2017

      Your photo is so lovely, like a painting. It made me think of the way things wash up in our memories.

  10. Liz · August 24, 2017

    It must run in the family…..this desire to keep a chaotic collection from the past. I have one too! Your description sounds very familiar. Coincidence? 😝

    • MELewis · August 24, 2017

      Ha, ha! I think we both inherited a bit more of Mom than we realize?

  11. Carina · August 24, 2017

    Well, yes those “photos, unsorted, mostly in the envelopes they used to come in when you picked them up from the drug store”, those journals on and off, the kid’s little messages, some love letters, concert tickets – of course all of that is here. And none of it is neat and tidy. If ever it was, it would no longer be my past 🙂
    However, now I want a box. I love the idea of everything in a box!
    To answer your question: we write journals when on vacation but that’s about it.
    Thank you for another great blog post. Small impulse – huge impact! Carina.

    • MELewis · August 24, 2017

      Thank you so much for the warm words, Carina! I do agree, neat and tidy would somehow not be me either. Hope you find just the right container for your collection. 😀

  12. Colin Bisset · August 24, 2017

    Oh, I’m so pleased to have inspired your always-warm-witty-and-wonderful reflections. And gosh, those boxes! No surprise that I have several but they’re secreted away in different places so I don’t feel quite so over-burdened as I can when I see drawers full of journals. Like you, they’re a lovely thing to immerse myself in from time to time, and how incredible it is that a single item – a card, a ticket, even a sweet wrapper – can provoke such crisp, clear memories so instantly. Pandora’s Boxes, perhaps, but in a good way!

    • MELewis · August 27, 2017

      Thank you, Colin, for your compliments and for your ever-inspiring posts! Our memories are so precious; makes me realize I should be taking better care of them.

  13. Suzanne et Pierre · August 25, 2017

    Interesting post. We are in the process of going through my parents-in-law memorabilia. My mother-in-law died last December and my father-in-law moved to an apartment so we are empty the house where they lived for 40 years and finding lots of boxes of letters and pictures. Unfortunately, most of the older pictures aren’t identified so we have no clue who the people are in the photos (some dating back to the late 19th century). Sometimes, we have been able to infer a few things from various clues but it is sad that the information is now lost. Some of the letters are fascinating and my husband is learning so many new things on the history of his family that his parents had never told him about. There are letters from a great-uncle who was a missionary in Basutoland (Lesotho today) between 1948 to his death in 1973. Unfortunately, we don’t have the letters that were written to him so it is a one-sided conversation but still very interesting…we have also found out that his great-uncle was recognized as an expert in African music and even had composed pieces of music but don’t have the partitions…All very interesting and evenings of readings ahead of us. (Suzanne)

    • MELewis · August 27, 2017

      What a fascinating family history you and Pierre have to dig through! Though it is sad when the stories die out with the family member’s passing…and a sad time when a parent dies. The African connection is particularly intriguing. Perhaps it will inspire a trip one of these days and some future photographs from Suzanne and Pierre?

      • Suzanne et Pierre · August 27, 2017

        Interesting that you mention the trip as we talked about it just yesterday with friends. I think it will be something we will certainly want to do sooner than later.

  14. zipfslaw1 · August 27, 2017

    God, I would LOVE to get a love letter comparing my face to an elfin grove!

    • MELewis · August 31, 2017

      Ha, ha…so would I nowadays but seems unlikely! 😦

  15. Mél@nie · August 31, 2017

    @”Do you keep a memory box?” – nope… my eyes and my mind have been my “memory box” for quite awhile… peut-être parce que je ne suis pas attachée au “matériel”?!… 🙂

    • MELewis · August 31, 2017

      Lucky you! My eyes and my mind need a bit of refreshing these days! 😉

  16. Pingback: Photos d’identité – FranceSays

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