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 A young family to provide for, family activities, and a career to maintain superseded an old hand-me-down.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