The Southern Tradition of the Keepsake Chest
For example, take the high school awards, pageant crowns, birthday cards, and letters handwritten from summer camp. Even tiny baseball gloves, used blankies, and stuffed animals that have seen better days. These items may be worthless in value—made of polyester, plastic, paper, and rhinestones bedazzled on metal—yet our Mamas save them like prized possessions. They do the same with objects that, in theory, are worth a little more. Smocked dresses, silver rattles, christening gowns made of vintage lace.
These are all equally treasured gems—mementos from chapters of our lives that are stored as such, more often than not in what's called a keepsake chest. See, no average box or plastic bin will do when holding goods of such sentimental value. Our Mamas are known to make a display of said accessories, presenting them in trunks as if they are a curated exhibit at a museum. Only these are stored in a childhood bedroom, at the foot of the bed, or in an attic with easy access. A keepsake chest is one that will be treasured forever.
What Is a Keepsake Chest
Today's generation is following in the footsteps before them. (One look at Instagram, and you'll see Southern bloggers from Dallas to Charleston post about how they are ordering special trunks for their kids.) But the notion of a keepsake chest is not a new one—and, as much as we hate to admit, is technically not specific to the South.
"Keepsake trunks have meant so many things to so many different cultures around the world for generations," explains Lindsay Mullenger, founder of Petite Keep, a company that specializes in making "heirloom-quality" trunks in Saint Louis, Missouri. "My favorite aspect of the concept and tradition is that it's so personal to its owner—the trunk can tell whichever story they would like it to."
What to Store in a Keepsake Chest
Mullenger founded Petite Keep as a mom herself, as she was searching for a special place to hold her daughter's things and prepare for the birth of her second with no luck. Today, her two daughters—Heidi and Bella—each have their own keepsake trunk.
"In my girls' trunks, I've kept their core pieces that have been a part of key moments (i.e. holidays, celebrations, milestones) or everyday memories—these are some of my favorites to hold on to because they make up the most of my memories," she explains. "There is something incredible about finding the special sweetness in the ordinary days!"
Notable items include coming home outfits from the hospital, Beaufort Bonnets from their first summers, cards from family members, and prized artwork. "Perhaps my favorite pieces though are the simple things—the piece of paper Heidi first wrote 'Mom' on and the picture Bella first wrote her name on!" she adds.
Items from her own childhood—from dresses she wore when she was little to her American Girl collection and first communion bible—have made their way into the girls' lives, too. All because they were kept and treasured by her own mother. "My mom made sure that our most special pieces were tucked away so that we could enjoy them in the future," she explains. "I am so, so grateful she did. It's so fun to see tradition live on."
The Legacy of the Keepsake Chest
While we most associate keepsake trunks with our mothers, who have for generations held onto memories for us, it's never too late to start a keepsake chest of your own—whether for your children or grandchildren, yourself, or even your partner. Mullenger has one devoted to her wedding and sells them for special trips, life events, and even just-because "thank you's." She plans to surprise her husband with a trunk for Father's Day that will be filled with "memories of his time in the military, academic and career accomplishments, fun childhood snapshots of his I've been handed down over the years, and most notably, masterpieces from our three little artists."
No matter the owner or recipient, we can guarantee that generations to come will be glad this piece of history exists. And, as tradition holds, will treasure it forever.