Posted in family, Life

History keeping

I’m not a true antique collector, but I do possess several vintage items, classified as antiques, which belonged to family members no longer with us. Those mementoes aren’t worth much in monetary value, I’m sure, but for sentimental reasons, to me they are priceless.

For example, the photo above is an old washstand that once belonged to my maternal grandparents. Since they lived with us during the last few years of their lives, I distinctly remember this piece of furniture being utilized in their bedroom.

After their deaths, it found a home in my childhood bedroom. And when I was a young teenager, I painted it white because it was old and a bit decrepit looking. Years later after I married Papa, this old piece of furniture became ours, white paint and all, until I asked Papa to strip and refinish it.

He only occasionally worked on that project and soon it was relegated to the back burner of importance. A young family to provide for, family activities, and a career to maintain superseded an old hand-me-down. Eventually, he did manage to strip away all the layers of paint and varnish and dismantled the washstand into pieces to do the job correctly.

Then it sat in our basement, unassembled and in need of some repair work, for many, many years. Finally, just a couple of months ago, Papa hauled it out, repaired some broken areas, refinished it, and purchased new hardware for the drawers and door portion of it. And now, it occupies a place of honor in the eat-in portion of our kitchen.

And it gives me joy and provides sweet memories of my grandparents who I loved so much but lost when I was nine years old.

What do I know about this family “heirloom?” Not much, except of course, it belonged to my grandparents and they were married in 1900 – you read that correctly. So, it’s fair to say that this piece is at least 100 years old.  Sometime during the years in which my grandparents, married for 64 years, owned this washstand, the attached towel bar became missing.

But I’m happy to see this antique repaired, reassembled, refurbished, and in functional usage once again.

In the last few months, (because honestly, what else is there to do in this ongoing restriction of our comings and goings?) I’ve cleaned out closets and drawers in this empty nest. To say there is much to be purged from this home is an understatement and I just commented to Papa that we have lived in this house too long – over 20 years now, more than double the time we lived in any other home – and have acquired too much stuff.

His reply was, “You want to move?” Heck, no! But when we moved often in the first 20 years of our marriage, we did jettison unnecessary items each time, but now…well, we’ve found ourselves surrounded by more possessions than we truly need.

So, while blitzing through this and that, casting aside items to eliminate or donate, I concluded that some family heirlooms (and I use that word loosely), need attention. Both Papa and I can identify those items and from which family member we inherited them, but our offspring may not and probably do not have that knowledge.

Let me confess right here that I am an organizer deluxe. I prefer to have my ducks all in a row and to be able to find them exactly where I placed them. And now, with more time on my hands, my inclination for putting things in order advanced to the next level. Okay, don’t worry, I’m not obsessive compulsive about it; I’m just getting a better handle on what’s here and where it is.

I’ve often read articles that suggest at the first of a new year it’s a smart idea to take inventory of your household goods, document or update that, place it in a safe location, and if for some unforeseen reason, you have a catastrophe and lose such possessions, you then have an accurate record of them.

We hadn’t updated that in more years than I care to mention, so another project presented itself to be accomplished.  Using my DSLR camera, I took photos of all the rooms of our home, uploaded them onto a flash drive, and placed that, along with a hard copy list of household goods, with our other important documents.

Upon completion of that project, I realized that perhaps those family keepsakes passed along to us should be documented as well.  So, I created an Excel spreadsheet with each item’s description, where it’s located in the house, and most importantly, from which family member it originated, and placed that with our home inventory information.

What our offspring/heirs choose to do with those items will be at their discretion, but at least, they will understand why we kept the mementoes and the family significance behind them.

Maybe it’s because Papa and I have reached a certain age of…maturity… but we now wish we had paid better attention to family stories and asked more questions about some of the keepsakes we now possess. Since both of us are the youngest in our families and our parents were older when we were born, there’s family history we just don’t remember or even know. And such information didn’t seem important to us while growing up.

Papa never knew his grandparents since they were either deceased by the time he was born or shortly afterward and for those same reasons, I only knew one set of mine who died when I was in elementary school. Hence, many of our family’s stories died with them. All we really know for certain about most of our ancestors are their names and vital dates like birth and death.

I have one cousin still living and a couple of years ago, he presented very thorough genealogy information, going back a couple hundred years, to me in a three-ring binder. We also have a fair amount of family genealogy about Papa’s ancestors as well.

When I read through the several generations worth of names written in that information, I find myself wondering what those ancestors were like. What kind of people were they? What was important to them? What were their lives really like, especially those who lived so many hundreds of years ago in a country different from our own?

Maybe that’s why some of the keepsakes seem so special to me. They provide a link to our past that we wouldn’t have otherwise.

Whatever the reason, my hope is that our children and grandchildren can learn a bit of family folklore from the memorabilia we’ve chosen to keep. Whether they opt to retain possession of those, pass them on to their progeny, or dispose of them will be beyond my control. But at least, they will know the family historical significance of each keepsake.

“Not everything worth keeping has to be useful.” ~ Cynthia Lord in the novel, Rules

©mamasemptynest.wordpress.com 2021

Author:

Mama of this empty nest, I’m content to live a quiet, country life with my husband of 40+ years and to view the gorgeous sunsets off my own back yard deck. Mama to three adults and Nana to adorable grandchildren, my empty nest fills up again with noise and laughter when they all return 'home'. A former English teacher, reporter/editor, education director for a non-profit organization, and stay at home mom, I retired after a season of substitute teaching at a private academy. Now I enjoy time spent with my grandchildren and family and writing words that seem to pour out of my soul or wandering around the countryside with my camera. Foremost, my faith sustains me as I meander through the empty nest stage of life. My favorite scripture is 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18: “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

13 thoughts on “History keeping

  1. My favorite piece, and the one with the most history, is an oak blanket chest that my grandfather made from their dining table when the family expanded and a bigger table was needed. The best detail is that he made the lid from the piece of the table that had the information about the maker and such. I use it as a coffee table, so it doesn’t get stuck away in a closet.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. What a great family item you own, made by your grandfather’s own hands! I have a wooden chest that was my paternal grandfather’s homemade tool chest. He was a carpenter and actually died during the Spanish flu pandemic when my dad was just a baby. My uncle had it and when he died, my cousin gave it to my father, then it came to me. However, someone over the years painted it red and I’m still trying to figure out what to do with it.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. LOVE that washstand! I have a few pieces handed down from family members, including few pieces that my father made. I really do need to take advice from you and document some things…. Perhaps once tax info is all gathered and before gardening season arrives!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I so love my washstand and the fact that it came from my grandparents (the only ones I knew) makes it even more special to me. Documenting all of this info has kept me busy since these virus restrictions hit. And because our grandchild is in school, I’m not babysitting as much, so I have more free time. We’ve also had a winter with more snow and icy weather, so I’m glad to have something to occupy my time.

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  3. What a wonderful post! Like you, I like having “my ducks in a row” and I’ve started keeping a record of some of my “special” possessions, where they came from, and what they mean to me. That information will be passed along, with the items, to future generations. I’ve also been spending an inordinate amount of time (hours a day!) doing genealogical research. It’s a project I started shortly after my mother died, then put aside during our retirement move, and left alone because there was so much else to do. With COVID lockdowns, I’ve dug it all out again and restarted the process. I got back to the mid 1500s on my father’s father’s side, and am now working on his mother’s side of the family (my mother’s side will be last). Like you, I wonder about each of these people, what they looked like, why they moved around as they did (or didn’t), and how and why arrived in Canada, etc. It breaks my heart to see so many early deaths, but joy when I discover that so many lived into their 80s and 90s! I’m putting it all into a format that will be (hopefully) easy for my boys and grandchildren to follow, and will enhance the last couple of generations’ worth of material with a narrative storyline (from what I know or remember – like you, I wish I’d asked more questions when my parents and grandparents were alive) and photographs (fortunately my mother put together two photo albums – one of her past and one of my Dad’s – shortly before she passed). Isn’t is interesting (sad?) that it’s not until we’re into our “third act” that we become really interested (fascinated!) with the lives of past generations?!?!?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, yes, and yes! I really regret not being more interested with those who came before us and finding out more information to pass on. My cousin – our fathers were brothers – has done extensive genealogy research into our grandparents’ families and that goes back like yours into the 1500’s. When I told him I was stumped on my mother’s side of the family because my mother’s grandparents were all deceased by the time she was born, he did research for me and found information that I never knew. I was so grateful for that! I do find it all very fascinating.

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      1. I had what I thought was information about my mother’s mother’s side of the family (we knew her “father” was not her biological father) but after her death, my sister and I sought a copy of her birth registration (her name on her birth certificate was NOT the same as her mother’s) and discovered she was actually adopted by the couple we knew as our grandparents. All attempts to find out something about her biological parents have led to complete dead ends. I’m sooo frustrated. I don’t know if she knew the circumstances around her birth/adoption or not, but I sure wish I’d probed more when she was alive.

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      2. Oh my goodness, I can imagine how frustrating that must be. And then not to have an answer as to whether she knew she was adopted or not would drive me crazy as well. I hope you can somehow find some answers.

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