Memories like fingerprints

Published 9:11 pm Thursday, November 14, 2013

As a reporter covering the education beat, I find that it can be difficult getting quotes from elementary school students to enliven my stories about them.

They’re at an age when language skills are often at a mismatch with their level of understanding of the world.

Some kids could talk the hind leg off a dog but the thoughts that would inform their words are missing, or nebulous at best.

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Others, you can sometimes tell, appreciate what’s going on around them to a greater extent than their peers but are unable to relate things to others.

Or, they might just be shy.

In a story Tuesday, two boys from Elephant’s Fork Elementary School were asked to comment on a project they had worked on providing disadvantaged children about their same age in Third World countries portraits of themselves so that, later in life, those children will have something to remember childhoods by.

The boys, two of talented art teacher Meredith Kerr’s seven students working on the project, said it made them feel “good” and “happy.”

One wonders how deeply they thought about the task as they applied watercolor to canvases to create portraits of Nepalese children who, before the photos the boys worked from were taken, had probably never stood in front of a camera.

There are times that arise in life when we have the occasion to reflect on our pasts, examine what we’ve lost, what we’ve gained and the things that remain intact through the years.

Sorting through childhood keepsakes can provide a powerful stimulus for such thoughts. Often, that happens when we move. But as we sort through the contents of the old trunks or plastic storage containers that hold school report cards, photos from birthday parties, love letters either received or written and never delivered, patinated trophies from long-forgotten sports and shopping-mall photos with Santa, some pieces inevitably are culled for disposal. The items left at the end are the intangibles that define us to ourselves, like Citizen Kane’s “Rosebud.”

Who we are today is destined to fade as we are constantly reborn, for practical purposes, as a necessity of life, because the world is always evolving and we are of it.

In the context of the kids benefiting from The Memory Project, many of whom are growing up in orphanages, having a small stash of keepsakes to help them remember their childhoods is indeed a privilege.

May the seven Elephant’s Fork Elementary students, among the latest of thousands of American kids to have created portraits, have a profound impact on the lives of less-fortunate kids elsewhere.