How to Make a Father’s Memory Box

Making Memories

Here’s an idea for a unique gift you can make for your father or for yourself in remembrance of him. This crafts project was originally published in shorter form in Barbara’s “Making Memories” column in Crafts ‘n Things magazine (1989-1999).

How to Make A Father’s Memory Box

I WISH MY DAD could have seen this box, for he would have been proud of me for practicing what he always preached; namely that everything has value, even something that looks like junk.

To others who searched through Daddy’s garage after his death for tools they wanted to keep, the stack of grease-covered tractor gaskets back in the corner was just filthy junk. But I saw artistry in the shape of those gaskets, and when I scratched the surface of one and found it to be copper, I could almost hear Daddy saying, “See that copper? It has value. Save it.”

It took me a week to clean the grime from the gasket and restore its copper tones, and I think even Daddy would have been surprised to see how beautiful it turned out to be. Like him, in fact. On the surface, he looked scruffy, but when you scratched a bit, you found a beautiful person with a heart as big as the world.

Here are some tips on how to make a unique memory box of, or for, your father. Begin with a glass-covered shadow box (available in craft stores) to desired size and consider:

Inner Frame

You’re not likely to find an old tractor gasket lying around, so finding a unique frame for your collection of photos will take some creativity on your part. If you do find something metallic and shiny, be sure to give it a protective spray coating so it won’t tarnish later. In designing your own frame, think of something that has an interesting shape with holes in it that might serve as individual picture frames, or make your own frame. Let your father’s occupation or hobby inspire a shape you can cut from matboard, poster board or other sturdy material. For a fisherman, perhaps a fish-shaped frame; for a writer or book lover, the shape of an open book; for a computer technician, a computer monitor screen, and so on. Add hand painted details as desired.

Background Material

Mount your frame against a background fabric or textured material that speaks of your father’s work or nature. My dad practically lived in overalls, so I lined the back and sides of his box with fabric cut from one of his old blue work shirts. If your father happens to be a businessman, consider old ties; a fisherman, fishing net; a farmer, a straw mat, and so on.

Photo Selection

Show your father at different ages and in different activities with family, friends, and pets dear to his heart. Bring your creativity into play as you plan how to enlarge, crop, and enhance the color on your photographs and experiment with your arrangement until you like the final result. (Tip: Don’t cut up your original photos—work only with copies you’ve scanned or had reproduced at a copy center.)

The experience of going through the family photo albums can be quite nostalgic and will surely bring back memories you thought were long forgotten. For example, in one picture of my dad, I find myself next to him—on a cow Mother told me was named “Old Vi.” I don’t recall having any great affection for this animal, but Mother said Vi really took a shine to me and always came to me when I came near the fence, and from time to time, Daddy hoisted me on her back for a short ride.

Another picture of my dad shows him with a dog named Gene, the best cow-getting dog in the world. I began life on a farm in Buckley, and this property had several acres of timber on it. That picture brought back a huge surge of memories of the days when Daddy and I and Gene would go get the cows. (For what it’s worth, I used to be pretty good at milking those cows, too.)

Personal Possessions

Include small items that show your father’s personality or interests. Stitch or glue all items securely so they won’t move when the picture is handled.

Examples: My box includes several small tools my dad always kept in his pockets—a miniature knife, small screwdriver, and spark plug tester; a pencil with the name of his garage on it (Buckley Motors); an old belt buckle with his initial; novelty tie clips; a pocket watch stopped at the time of his death; and a clipping of his favorite ball team that he kept in his wallet to remind him of the days when the White Sox were on a winning streak. It read, “White Sox sprint past Orioles for 8th in row.”

My Dad had a passion for baseball and would often watch the Sox play on television while also listening to the Cubs on radio. For years he kept a ratty old spiral notebook and a stubby pencil in his shirt pocket, faithfully recording everyone’s hits and runs. (The Sox came close to winning in 1982, but they didn’t quit make it then or in 2003, by which time Daddy had departed. See also article, “Life is Like a Baseball Game.“)

Signature Touch

Woodburn or paint your father’s signature on a piece of wood or other appropriate object, or clip his handwritten signature from a letter or cancelled check, as I did. Place it at center bottom.

Of course I never tire of looking at my father’s memory box—or any of the several family memory boxes that have lined the hallway wall since I first made them. They are among my most precious possessions and a constant reminder of the wonderful life and family I’ve been blessed to have.

P.S. After completing your memory box, also think about writing a personal memoir of your father, recalling wonderful times you had with him. Put a copy of it in an envelope taped to the back of the box. Then, long after your dad is gone—and long after you’re gone, too—people will not only have a visual record of his life in your memory box, but will also have your written record of it as well.

Copyright © 2000, 2021 by Barbara Brabec


My Memory Box of Life with Harry Brabec. This project was essential to Barbara’s emotional healing as a grieving widow and one that will inspire many to create a memory box of a loved one. Includes ideas and tips on how to combine memorable photos with a loved one’s personal possessions.

Picture Yourself in a Typesetter’s Tray. This creative project illustrates how to transform an antique typesetter’s tray into a unique memory box of your life or someone you love.

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