A legacy: how personal stories are shaped

31 January 2023

Topic: Voices of young people
Author: Olivia Khan

Olivia Khan is a Rural Business graduate who worked at the Champions Board in South Ayrshire before moving to Berlin. Olivia stays connected to her care roots with a freelance role. In National Storytelling Week 2023, she explores how our personal stories are shaped and why people with care experience need to know their past as they navigate what their own legacy will be.

I enjoy having all of these Polaroid photographs around me. Some are pinned on the wall behind my desk. Some I look at more than others because of their placement. I am filled with love and memories when I really look at them. I show people when they visit. I take them to the homes of my other friends and stick them on their fridges and mirrors. It makes me happy to start to build this legacy. I think a lot about the stories they will inspire when someone new asks about them in years to come. New lovers and friends and family.

“Who is this?” “When was this taken?” “Remember Olivia’s Polaroid phase?”

I don’t have a lot of pictures of my past nor do I have much of a legacy at the moment. All of my belongings can fit into an average five-seater car. I have a folder of photographs from the past. Only two or three of my mum. My brother and sister also only have a few handfuls of pictures between them. When I was younger, and my mum invited my dad back into our lives, he left a lot of destruction in his path. I remember sitting on the top bunk of our bunk beds. I don’t think this was my usual sleeping spot but maybe I was trying to keep some distance between me and my dad. Give myself a high vantage point. He smelled unfamiliar. He wore a dirty denim jacket and I remember how it smelled like cigarettes. My sister, older than me, had some memory of him before he left. So this smell made her feel safe but not me.

We had a few boxes of precious family stuff. Photographs and invites to weddings and cards made by us kids, and other momentos. I watched my dad flick through them and pick some pictures he liked. Probably ones of my sister and me. Then he burned the rest. In my room while I watched from the top bunk. He needed to wipe out my legacy before doing anything else. I wonder why he went straight to the root like this. It was so early in his existence in my life. How vicious.

How legacy work helps children to document their lives

It’s called Legacy Work. Supporting a young person or child who has had to start again in creating their own legacy. Having memories to look back on and ways to conceive of time passing I think.

Maybe this is where my fantasy comes from about people some day looking back on the Polaroids. It’s so fascinating to me that people go back to their childhood home and they still have a room and stuff that they owned as a kid and what is still kept. Their first cot. Their Halloween outfit when they were seven.

I am grateful to my foster mum and dad for helping me build my legacy, my story. There is at least one box of filled notebooks in their attic. I warned them both when I handed them over. I told them that my practice was to be completely honest and uninhibited in these notebooks so there absolutely are things in them that they would not want my foster sisters to read. I told them in no uncertain terms that I do not care so much about what they may read but I imagine there are details that they would not want the girls to see. This is the start of a legacy: personal notes, records, and confessional diaries. And if the girls are anything like me, they are most certainly going to be curious enough to read them from cover to cover. As I fire up my imagination that they will have quite an education reading about my travelling for three years having extraordinary experiences, I realise how precious these memories are not only in building a legacy but in passing it on. If they do discover them, I would love to hear from them in the future. What bits stuck with them the most. And I wonder too who will be next to hear my stories and be in the photographs beside me. 

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