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A few of our favorite things

Published July 16, 2006

[Times photo: Bob Croslin]
I have tracked my family’s roots in Georgia back to about 1840. The pictures I have and the documents I’ve found can’t be replaced. Future generations need to know where the family comes from, the sacrifices they made. The lesson is that your present situation doesn’t indicate your future outcome. These are the stories we can tell our children and our grandchildren.
— Frances Jennings, at her home in Tampa
Go to photo gallery

If the big one heads our way this hurricane season, evacuation routes will be packed with cars full of anxious people, nervous pets and hastily gathered supplies.

Some will also bear less predictable cargo: antique baby clothes, precious old porcelain, well-thumbed letters, toys no child has played with in decades, artwork no curator could place a price on. Evidence of lives well-remembered, even if long passed.

We asked our readers to tell us what one favorite thing they would take if forced to leave their homes, and why it's so important to them. Here are some of their stories:

My mother married in the 1930s, and my aunt Jean was her maid of honor. Pictures were taken at the wedding, including a lovely photo of aunt Jean. She passed away on Aug. 12, 2004 (my birthday). When I found this beautiful old photo, I was able to have it framed with an oval mat with an antique look, as it should be.

- Marlene Kelley, Safety Harbor

I would make sure to bring my pregnancy journal with me. From the moment I found out I was having a baby, I would write every detail as it was happening. Now my son is 2, and I continue to write special monthly events. I occasionally go back to read it and remember funny little wonderful moments in my life as a mother.

- Kristie Licht, Spring Hill

The first thing taken for safekeeping is a special picture/collage made in tribute to my mother, Dorothy Klingel. I shared it with my mother just days prior to her passing in 2003. So many special mementos are artfully displayed in the beautiful wood frame, including my mother's christening dress and my baby dress and pinafore. Also encased are a few other favorite black and white photos of us together. This collage serves as a reminder of how precious family relationships truly are.

- Karen Wise, Tierra Verde

As a legacy for my family, I have compiled photographs, documents and memories of a grateful immigrant clan (descended from an Englishman) whose son was captured by Indians and taken to Canada in 1696. This son's subsequent marriage to a French Canadian girl, and the hard work that led their progeny to New England and then nationwide, have made me proud to be an American.

- Jeannette Erickson Sommerville, Largo

My favorite things are my dad's military records from the Spanish-American War of 1898, which I have framed. He embarked from Tampa with Theodore Roosevelt to Cardenas Bay, Cuba. They soon chased the Spaniards out of Cuba, and a few years later Theodore Roosevelt became our 26th president.

- Carrie Martin, Seminole

Around 25 years ago, our son made us a beautiful lead glass chandelier for Christmas. Today I realized that hurricane season is here, and that we will have to leave because we live in a manufactured home. That beautiful gift that can't be replaced will be packed in our trunk when we leave, so that when we are gone, someone in our family will treasure it as we did.

- Anne Marie Rife, Brooksville

It sits in a place of honor behind glass in a hutch in my living room. It is heavy, crystal and quite beautiful, and one could mistake it for a vase. But it is actually a straw holder from the soda fountain of my grandfather's drugstore. The drugstore was on the ground floor of an apartment building that burned to the ground in 1951, when I was barely 5. I knew my maternal grandparents only when I was a small child and my mother died when I was a teenager, so my daughter is left without any memories of my mother and her family. This treasure represents the stories that will someday be recalled when it moves to a place of honor in my daughter's home.

- Joyce Looney, St. Petersburg

In 1893, when she was in her late teens, my rebellious and somewhat unwilling grandmother reluctantly participated in a class in which proper young ladies from the Boston area painted flowers and fruit on white Limoges china. One pitcher became a lamp and was given to me by my mother. If we need to abandon our home, I will not leave it behind.

- Andrea Clark, Homosassa

A Royal Doulton figurine of a man sitting on a bench selling balloons, a gift from my 16-year-old daughter, Beatrice, on my 50th birthday. Bea was a high school student and worked a few hours a week at McDonald's. To me the figurine is a symbol of a kid's love and generosity. I look at it and remember the many times we stood together and I admired it but could not afford to buy.

- Susan Black Schmidt, Seminole

I never saw my grandmother, but I know and love her through my mother telling me about her. I have her name, and we both had tragic losses of husbands and sons. My mother was orphaned at a very young age. She had very few of her mother's belongings, but she did manage to acquire a pair of her shoes. There is even a trace of Tennessee red mud on them. My grandmother died in 1912.

- Evelyn Atherton, Palm Harbor

I have a small hand-carved cabinet that was sent to me by my mother from Belgium. I had always admired it. It had been in the family for 70 years, and the drawers are full of pictures of family and trips. It was my mother's; she is 92 years old now.

- Jacqueline Grieco, St. Pete Beach

My most cherished thing that I would take with us is a rocking chair that was a wedding gift to my maternal grandparents. It was hand-carved by a friend of theirs 109 years ago. It is a small rocking chair that looks to be made of oak. The seat is round as well as the back, where there is the most unusual carving of an old man with spectacles playing a bass fiddle.

- Joan Mackert, Safety Harbor

I was married for 44 years before I lost my husband. His memorial flag is all that I have left of him. It would be one of the most important things that I would try to save.

- Elizabeth Sheridan, Clearwater

When my mom had an operation for a brain tumor, we were told that it was cancer and she had only six months to live. I took her home with me, as my brothers didn't want the responsibility. One of my brothers did come from Illinois and brought her a teddy bear. She never let it out of her sight. Two weeks before she died, she gave me the bear.

- Nancy Tate

I would take my "memory pillow" with me. I lost my 30-year-old husband, Bo, in a car accident in August 2004, after 10 months of marriage. The memory pillow was created for me by a family friend. It is made of pieces of Bo's clothing. The pillow would give me something of Bo's to hug and rest my head on.

- Andrea Johnson, Pinellas Park

What must I take? It took me two seconds to answer this question: my husband's voice. It is his voice on our answering machine, and since his death in January 2005, that taped message has taken on new meaning. I duplicated it and keep it in a fireproof box. It is more precious to me than anything.

- Eileen Bartelt, Redington Beach

My most precious possession is a box I keep under my bed, full of 30 years' worth of letters from my father to me. He died in 1999, but when I open the box, I feel his presence with me. There are probably 50 cards and letters in my box, which I pull out every few months.

- Suzanne Peterson, Clearwater

My father owned a red Saab Sonnet III in the 1970s. He would pick me up at school in the Sonnet, thus solidifying my "coolness." He bought me the Matchbox Cars version, took it apart and precisely painted each piece to match his. In September 2000, my father passed away. The Matchbox Cars Sonnet reminds me of how much my father loved me, and how cool I felt as a kid when we rode in the real one together.

- Jana Hadley Bailey, St. Petersburg

I was recovering from a life-threatening illness seven years ago when my daughter and son-in-law presented me with a tiny diamond that hung from a delicate gold chain. "This is your Seize the Day necklace," they said. "Wearing it will help you remember that you have a full life ahead of you. Try new things. Seize the day!" So I wore the necklace, and I tried new things. I wrote a novel and won an award. I conquered stage fright to give talks. It is the one thing I will always take with me because it reminds me what I must do. I must seize the day!

- Michele Ivy Davis, Palm Harbor

If I had to evacuate my home and I could only bring one special item, it would be my hand quilting projects. My hand quilting would give me the chance to be still in the turmoil of an evacuation. I have found that children are intrigued with all of the small pieces of my projects. Often the parents of the children start a conversation with me about a relative who quilted. By being still myself in turmoil, perhaps I can help a child or their parent also be still.

- Judith L. McVaugh, Beverly Hills

With 15 minutes warning, I grabbed my sealed genealogy research and thrust it into the dishwasher. Then, as facilitator/editor of about 300 stories and poems authored by members of Writer's Circle at Eckerd College, I stuffed a ream of printed copies of our original works into my canvas carryall. I feared losing their delightful material if my computer were swept up in the forthcoming hurricane. My responsibility to the group was foremost. Never did I envision taking jewelry or photos!

- Shirley Wilson, St. Petersburg

It is so easy to name my favorite thing or things. What makes it especially easy is a fire in the middle of the night in January 1974. On that night in New York, my husband and I and our three small children escaped with only the clothes on our backs.

I know that there is nothing in the world that cannot be replaced except a life. Even the loss of photos is not so bad, as memories live on in our hearts and minds. Keep yourselves and your family safe. If you are alive, you can always start over.

- Jeanne Ennis, Tarpon Springs

[Last modified July 15, 2006, 19:54:43]

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