Thursday, December 5, 2013

*Family Heirlooms: Use 'Em or Lose 'Em

People who save beautiful things for a special occasion drive me a little crazy. If you have something beautiful, don't you deserve to enjoy it whenever you want? You know the folks who have all of their beautiful china on display, but only dust it? The ones who never eat off of their special  I don't understand them.

My stepmom has many family heirlooms from her grandmother and mother that have been passed down to her. She also received beautiful china of her own when she married my dad. Yes, there is a beautiful cabinet in the dining room with everything on display, and there is a buffet filled with actual SILVERware. I'm so proud of her; we use it. We have to wash the dishes by hand, but that's okay; at least she considers us worthy of her lovely dishes. I think it is so special the way her dinner table looks; she has a flair for decorating.

Every family is different; there are those who purge nearly everything, and those who hoard, and everything in between. There are not many things to be passed down in our family. My dad has a cool smoking stand, a triangular cabinet owned by his father that stores pipes and tobacco. My mom has her mom's bedroom set, and she and my aunt take turns wearing a ruby ring that belonged to their mother. Other than those things, there aren't many family heirlooms.

When my grandmother died, guess what I selected when it was my turn? Her beautiful red London Fog wool coat. Not exactly something I will be able to pass on to my daughter; it's showing signs of wear. I have loved using that coat for the last 24 years, and always think of Grandma when I wear it.  

My mother gave me one more thing from Grandma, and it makes me chuckle. I received her sex manual; an old-fashioned book written by a doctor that her doctor gave her when she was a young wife.  

The best part about it is the letter that is tucked inside written by a doctor to my grandmother, wishing her the best as she tries to become a better wife. There are no pictures or illustrations, just lots of boring details about the mechanics of sex. Again, Sierra is welcome to it, but not exactly something to include in my will.

I tend to be a purger.  When something no longer serves its purpose, loses its appeal, or just becomes another item to store, I usually get rid of it. I am not one to wear jewelry of value, so I won't have much to pass on in that department. I have a wedding set in my jewelry box that my father gave to my mother. They divorced when I was ten. Much later, when I was married, my father gave it to me, and I wore it after I had lost so much weight that my own ring did not fit. I loved that the ring connected me to both of my parents.

When I was visiting everyone back home in Virginia about fifteen years ago, I happened to be talking to my stepdad while he was in the basement getting rid of things they no longer wanted to store. My kind of guy; he's a purger, too. Calvin pulled an old decrepit postal box off the shelf, opened it, and said, "We don't use these. Let's toss this box."  My mom saw the box, and took a quick inhale.  

"Those were my mom's. Maybe Denise wants them."  Within that ratty-looking box were the delicate glass ornaments that belonged to my grandmother from so many years ago.  I loved them.  

"I can seriously have these?"  They were mine for the asking.  How I cherish the one heirloom-quality collection I have. These ornaments were the first set my grandmother had as a new bride in 1934. They are made of the thinnest of glass, and hand-painted. They were run-of-the-mill ornaments back then, probably purchased at the local five and dime store, but they are so special now because of their antiquity.  Almost 80 years old...

For the first few Christmases, I hung them on my tree, but inevitably, one would break during the decorating; they are so fragile.  I continued to wrap them in the toilet paper that cushioned them in the old postal box, but a few years ago, I decided to put them in an egg carton to protect them a little better, or so I thought.

A couple of years ago, I purchased a tacky table-top tree on which to hang them.  That never set well with me; they needed a special place to go.  When I opened the carton this year, I discovered another broken ornament, so I left the box in the basement.

Several friends were talking about old family Christmas decorations, and I happened to mention Grandma's ornaments.  My friend Carol asked me to show them to her.  Since she lives in Massachusetts, the only way I could do that was to take pictures of them.

So last night, while I was waiting for Bridger to get home from playing in the pep band at the
My favorite one is broken. I can't bear to part with it.
basketball game, I decided to photograph the ornaments. I gingerly removed each of the little glass decorations from the egg carton, and hung them on the tree, taking pictures of each one, trying to catch the light just right to showcase the individuality of each ornament.I even photographed the broken one; it was one of my favorites, and I couldn't bear to throw it away.

I felt ashamed that I hadn't even brought the box of ornaments upstairs this year. These beautiful family heirlooms should be showcased every year for as long as they last. They do no good sitting in a crate in the basement closet, getting more fragile with each passing year. They are a connection to my dear grandmother, and just having them in view makes me happier.

So this morning, as I hang each ornament on my Christmas tree, I will walk the walk, and not just talk the talk.  I am going to use these beautiful gifts as they were meant to be; part of our family's heritage and Christmas traditions. They have their special place of honor, right where they belong:  on my Christmas tree. I am so glad I took the time to photograph them last night because I know they will not last forever. While they do, I promise to treasure them and include them in my holiday decorating.


  1. Such beautiful photos. The photobook of Grandma's ornaments can be as cherished as the ornaments themselves...especially if you space this essay through the pages.

    1. THAT is great idea, Janna! I'll wait until Shutterfly offers me another killer deal.


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