Earlier this year, I had a lovely twitter reaction to a gift I’d made to mark my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary. Their golden anniversary was in 2010, the year before my father died. The gift was a printer’s tray with each compartment representing significant times in the couple’s lives since they met. As my parents were so different from each other, the compartments also symbolise their very separate interests.
Here is my original tweet about the printer’s tray:
Useful tool to prompt memories and conversations
Although I made the gift before mum’s dementia diagnosis, it became a useful tool to prompt memories and happy conversations. Some readers may be interested to create their own commemoration boxes, so I hope this post inspires you.
I’ve written up what each compartment in the box represents as a prompt so that family, friends and carers can use the gift with mum. As Shirley Pearce from Understanding Dementia pointed out, we need to do this sensitively. It’s especially important that we don’t appear to know more about mum’s life than she does.
A guide to the commemoration box
Below is a picture of the box. The blue and red letters drawn on top relate to the descriptions below the picture. Following a rough chronological order we start with E, June and Haydn’s first date. This is the sequence I generally use when talking with mum.
What the compartments represent
E – June and Haydn had their first date some time in the late 50s. They went to see the film Gone with the Wind. After the film they argued, and it was very nearly their last date!
F – The couple continued to see each other until eventually June told Haydn that if he wasn’t planning to marry her, she would move on. He was, and she didn’t. They got married on 17 September 1960.
A – The couple had their honeymoon in Jersey. I picked up the Jersey pound note and heart-shaped pebble almost fifty years later. Mum, dad and my husband, Jack, were visiting dad’s sister and brother-in-law, who live there.
BC&D – The next big event in their life was the birth of their first child Christine, almost a year after they tied the knot. The six compartments represent their three children, my sister (D) and me (C) born in the early 60s. My brother (B) Tudor was born in 1973 and died in 2005. I don’t talk about these boxes as it may prompt questions about where Tudor is.
S – Six months after Christine was born, my parents packed up and went to Hong Kong. Haydn had secured a job as a building surveyor for local government. This cut-out boat represents the Chitral that my parents sailed to Hong Kong on.
O – Two banknotes from Hong Kong old and new, signify the quarter of a century my parents lived there.
U – As is clear from their early photos June and Haydn were a glamorous couple. For special occasions June’s red cheongsam (traditional chinese dress) and Haydn’s red dinner jacket would come out. The diamantes and crystal beads hint at the glitzy parties they went to.
R – This is Murray Building, the government office where Haydn worked as a building surveyor for over twenty years. June was a nurse with the Red Cross.
L&M – I used the ornate metal letters to print June & Haydn’s initials on green paper. These are the type of letter blocks that would have been stored in such a printer’s tray.
G – June is a committed Christian and her faith has always been important to her. So this compartment contains a miniature bible (that I made), a cross and a picture of the Madonna.
H – Haydn was fascinated by Japanese culture and people. He watched Akira Kurosawa films before the director had international acclaim. He collected Japanese prints, netsuki (small carved ornaments), samurai swords and masks. Our favourite family meal was sukiyaki which dad cooked at the dining table.
I – Haydn also loved Indian food, took Indian cookery lessons, and made curries from scratch. He ground all his own spices, hence the Star of Anise, and other spices in these compartments.
J – June loves birds so the top box is a little blackbird I made out of wool. Beneath is a picture of a robin I took for mum. Our family were visiting the Botanical Garden of Wales where we dedicated a tree to my brother. Mum spotted a robin in the tree and asked me to photograph it. I sent her an enlarged print which she got framed. The lower box has a small print of the same photo, a bit obscured here.
K – We had amazing family holidays by virtue of being in South East Asia. I recall an early morning jungle walk in Langkawi, Malaysia in the mid-70s. A local guide pointed out a scorpion and took us into a cave where we were surrounded by bats. We ended up on a deserted beach where a picnic breakfast awaited us.
M – Haydn loved gambling. There were no casinos in Hong Kong so we often went to the Portuguese colony, Macau, where dad would play cards and roulette. The picture in the background is Casino Lisboa. This is where dad played, and we stayed in the attached hotel.
N – is for nature. June loves being in nature, watching birds and admiring trees.
P – The technology and their favourite TV from the early years of their marriage. My dad loved The Avengers, which we watched as a family.
Q – The advance in technology and two of the TV programmes that the couple watched around their 50th anniversary.
T – I wondered about leaving this one out when I talk to mum. This is the bottle of gin my mother smuggled to my father in prison, when he was arrested, detained overnight and falsely charged with corruption in Hong Kong. I worried it might bring back bad memories, but instead she is chuffed to remember her gutsy show of support for the man she still loves.
If you decide to make a commemoration gift for a loved one, do bear in mind it could be a lot simpler than this one. The contents of the compartments don’t need to be quite so elaborate. I like making things, which is why I got involved with cut-out ships and bottles, cinema sets, frames, birds and books. It was fun finding pictures online, reducing them to size, sticking them on polyboard and cutting out with a scalpel. The contents could just as well be little objects you find around the house, things that symbolise big events (e.g. confetti, birthday candles or fragments of photos), moments (e.g. a corner of a favourite recipe, or a ticket) and interests (e.g. sand to represent the beach, cotton wool the clouds, or by using pictures found in magazines).