What’s the oldest thing you own? (Toys, clothing, twinkies, Grecian urns: anything’s fair game.) Recount its history — from the object’s point of view.
I hate antique stores. I’m sure it traces back to incredibly dull childhood visits at my grandmother’s house where everything was encased in plastic to protect it from – us? Don’t sit on the chairs, don’t touch ANYTHING and don’t ever ever spill. The irony is that my grandmother let us run free when we were outside and we dove into the creek, the dirt, the mud and more. As long as we weren’t inside the apartment (or the building), she didn’t seem to care what we did.
If she had allowed us to actually enjoy the items in her home in age-appropriate ways, we would have spent time with her instead of at the creek and probably have built a better relationship with her. And maybe I wouldn’t have this inherent dislike for valuing “things” above people. I struggle with that around historic preservation, too.
That being said, I do have a few family heirlooms that might be able tell interesting stories.
First, there is Mary. Mary was my first babydoll – my other Grandmother made her from a rag, a piece of yarn and placed her in a cradle repurposed from a planter my father made in high school. It was always left a bit vague about why Mary was my first babydoll because we didn’t talk about those years when my mother was hospitalized. I was probably around 16 months old but I’m not sure. Mary spent most of my life being cradled on top of my grandmother’s sewing box. I claimed her and she now lives in my home. I don’t remember playing with Mary – just visiting her when I was older. I’d like to ask Mary to tell me about those years. And I wonder what I’ll do with Mary? No one would want her.
Second, there is “the chair” that allegedly came down through my mother’s family as part of the Roosevelt estate. Who knows if that is true. My mother and her siblings each received one chair which I think is absolutely absurd. It was a chair we had never been permitted to sit upon. My mother asked me to keep it because of her cat so it sits in our home, covered with stuff to keep it clean. One of our cats sits on the stuff sometimes. But otherwise the chair is unscathed. What on earth will I do with this chair? What story would it tell? Did a Rooseveltian sit on it? If I were going to invent a story, I would talk about the chair being occupied or at least in the same room as Eleanor when she made some sort of awesome choice. I’ll probably give this chair to my brother’s children so they can wonder what to do with it.
Third is the rosary that belonged to my paternal great-grandmother. She was not Catholic, but she attended Mass regularly. That’s another great mystery. Where did she get this? My research shows that it is likely a Czech made brass reliquary dating to the 1930s or 1940s or perhaps earlier in the 20th century. It isn’t worth much, but it was one of the few items that survived the fire which killed her in 1972. I’m not aware that we had Czech relatives so where did she get it? A store? A friend? Why? As I’ve mentioned before, she and her 3 siblings just burst into “official” records in the 1920 Census – we have no idea where they came from or how they ended up in Pittsburgh. It seems there’s a big secret about their origins – where they running from something or some perception? And what sort of comfort did the Catholic Church offer? I’ve carried this reliquary with me everywhere I’ve lived since my father gave it to me.
I’ve been watching “Once Upon a Time” on Netflix so my curiosity about backstories is a little more heightened than usual. To be honest, all three of these items seem to be reminders of the sadness in life – a little girl separated from her mother, a grandmother who kept a protective covering between her and her grandchildren, and a woman driven by something which she perceived to be unspeakable.
Perhaps it is best to leave the stories to my imagination.