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Families need historians to record life's important moments

When Mama died and the remainders and reminders of her life had to be sorted, distributed and, in some rare instances, disposed of, my sister, Louise, and I marveled at the historian that Mama was.

She was a prodigious note writer, leaving behind a vast and varied trail of torn pieces of paper with ink written notes scattered hither and yon. She did not cast history away to chance or shrug her mortal shoulders at immortal things. She was consciously aware that while her life would one day ebb away, the situations and the possessions that had once been uniquely hers would have a life and a history that would outlive her earthly life as long as she recorded those memories and passed them down to the generations that followed.

Few people are as smart as Mama.

"I'm tellin' you: Mama is speaking to us from beyond the grave," Louise would say time after time as we uncovered another package wrapped in a paper bag or, more often than not, lightweight plastic.

She said this once when she opened a box and found an old clutch-style handbag. No sooner had the thought, "I wonder where this came from?" crossed her mind then she opened the purse to find a note from Mama: "Ralph sent me this from the Philippines when he was in service."

Out of the cedar chest came a pale blue fancy party dress, size 6, covered in lace and bows with a tiny bell sewed into the petticoat. It had a note pinned to it: "This is Ronda's. Mary Nell bought it for her."

In the top drawer of the wardrobe was a plastic freezer bag filled with silver dollars - Daddy special ordered them every Christmas and distributed to kids, family members and close friends - with a note: "These are Greg's. I owe him two." She had apparently borrowed them to give to someone when she ran short of her own. She wanted to make certain the debt was repaid. It was.

I pulled a package of home-grown field peas from her freezer to cook one day and laughed lightly when one of her handwritten notes fell from the bag: "Wash before cooking." Death could not deter her motherly commands.

"Yes, Mama," I said out loud as I poured them into a strainer. "Thanks for reminding me." Then, instead of tossing the note in the trash, I placed it in a drawer with other notes she left behind.

I recently found myself in a hotel room in Beverly Hills, Calif. As I sipped cream-tinged coffee that morning while the sun rose lazily, I jotted down thoughts on a new project that leapt to mind on the flight out. While working, my mind drifted back to a conversation at a party several hours earlier where I met Deana Martin, the daughter of famed crooner Dean Martin.

I approached her to tell her how much I had enjoyed her loving and lovely memoir of her amiable, famous dad. "I savored it," I commented.

She smiled appreciatively. "Thank you so much. That book was my entire heart." We began a conversation on the importance of memoirs and writing down what we have witnessed.

"I believe that we all have a responsibility to record the things we've seen and touched in life," I said. "It's especially important with someone as famous as your dad, that y'all who loved him record his stories."

That conversation made me think back on Mama's notes and how invaluable and cherished the information is. I picked up the legal pad with the outline I had just penned and at the top of the page, I scribbled a date, location and a brief explanation.

Someone might need to know all that someday after I'm gone.

Ronda Rich is the best-selling author of the new book, "What Southern Women Know About Faith." Visit www.rondarich.com to sign up for her newsletter.