By Darcy Crowder
Often it’s the little things, those small details or quite literally those tiny treasures, that have the most impact, trigger the sharpest memory, embody the dearest sentiment. Unfortunately too many of these details or thoughtful gestures can go unnoticed. Mementos get tucked away in drawers or boxes for safekeeping and so their significance and stories dim with time.
My mother-in-law was a master of “the little things”. The first time I met her she’d invited me into her home for a nice family dinner. It was February and I’d only been dating her son a few weeks. The table was set in warm white with red accents in honor of Valentine’s Day. It wasn’t yet the 14th, but one of the first things I learned about her, and quickly came to love, was her unfailing joy at decorating her table to reflect the season or nearest holiday. And there beside my plate was my first hint of her generous personality, a delicate pewter heart-shaped frame; a small gesture of welcome that’s turned into a cherished memory. It now holds a picture of my baby daughter’s first smile. Amazingly, years later I found another identical frame to hold a picture of my son’s first smile.
It’s these tiny treasures and simple gestures that turn the everyday into the unexpected and make powerful memories.
Several years ago, not too long after my mother-in-law passed away, I wanted to give my husband something special to commemorate her life. I found myself in possession of her treasures from my husband’s childhood, and a precious few from her own. Too endearing to be stored away, I decided to make a shadow box. I used background paper in soft blues and buttery yellow, colors she loved and used often. There were pictures of her as a child, and as a young mother holding her baby son. I pinned some of her own baby items strategically alongside those of my husbands; faded satin baby slippers, a crocheted pin holder with pale pink ribbons, a teething ring, a tiny bracelet, a thin bouquet of small dried flowers that look like daisies because she loved flowers so much, even part of a letter she’d written.
You get the idea. Now every time we walked past this display we’d be reminded of her and so many of the little things that made her special to us.
So what does all this have to do with writing? Just like in real life, it’s the small details that can have the biggest impact, show us who a character is, make us care. From the clothing choices they make, to the kind of art they have hanging on their wall. But even more compelling are the things they hold dear. Whose picture do they have on the bedside table? Where did that antique locket they wear every day come from? Why do they smile every time they walk past the ceramic dog sitting by the door? What triggers their most powerful memory and why? The answers to these types of questions are what make characters come alive; relatable in their similarities, fascinating in their differences.
What about you? What mementos do you keep nearby to remind you of happy days or special people? Are you into scrapbooking or making shadowboxes? Can you think of a scene that made an impact on you because of something a character cherished?