"Our most treasured family heirlooms are our sweet family memories. The past is never dead, it is not even past."
I love to go garage sale-ing, or estate sale-ing…( sailing, for short), on the weekends. I often find jewelry, books and treasured items that surely have a story to tell; souvenirs or gifts of love, or memorabilia left suddenly exposed to the raw reality of abandonment. In some ways it is sad. I feel like a vulture honing in on the pickings, and yet Vultures have their value too, in the chain of life. My prizes gain new life, either on my own shelves or as gifts to other people. Sometimes they become my most favorite tool or article of clothing. Others hang proudly in my living room, swelling with new found pride in their existence, and breathing new life into my surroundings.
My parents, the generation that lived through the Second World War, and the Great Depression never threw anything away. I have been accused of similar crimes by my darling daughter who is much more of a minimalist than I. However, she belongs to a younger generation who does not want their grandmother’s furniture, doesn’t want the clutter, or the old lace curtains. Even I am beginning to downsize, although part of my rationale for “collecting “ in the first place was that it somehow would increase in value as time goes on. In reality, it NOT the case.
Old brown furniture is not popular any more. Antiques that were valuable when we were kids have lost their popularity and declined in value. Large pieces of furniture, like Armoires become a burden to a fast moving, Ikea-raised society who can purchase a whole bedroom suite at huge retail outlets for no money down and no interest for 4 years! Small apartments and Lofts do not have a lot of storage space and ornamental clutter becomes a burden.
Even as our parents die, our children do not want a lot of the old belongings and ‘Stuff” , and they certainly don’t have the emotional connection to things that we once did. I remember keeping little bits of wrapping paper that I received when I was a child, (when wrapping paper first became decorative. ) It used to be plain brown paper, or newspaper when I was growing up, and the first real wrapping paper I saw was thrilling to me! It was blue, and had white elephants on it! ( Kind of ironic in a way…J
By the time most baby boomers lose their parents, they are already established, and don’t need or want their parent’s stuff, save perhaps for a few select heirlooms. (Maybe.)
“ I don't know the first thing about holding together a family, especially one that resembles an heirloom vase, shattered but glued back together for its beauty, and no one mentions that you can see the cracks as plain as day.”
From: A.M. Klein: Complete Poems (I & 2). ed. Zailig Pollock. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1990. I.298.
My father bequeathed me no wide estates;
No keys and ledgers were my heritage;
Only some holy books with yahrzeit dates
Writ mournfully upon a blank front page --
Books of the Baal Shem Tov, and of his wonders;
Pamphlets upon the devil and his crew;
Prayers against road demons, witches, thunders;
And sundry other tomes for a good Jew.
Beautiful: though no pictures on them, save
The scorpion crawling on a printed track;
The Virgin floating on a scriptural wave,
Square letters twinkling in the Zodiac.
The snuff left on this page, now brown and old,
The tallow stains of midnight liturgy --
These are my coat of arms, and these unfold
My noble lineage, my proud ancestry!
And my tears, too, have stained this heirloomed ground,
When reading in these treatises some weird
Miracle, I turned a leaf and found
A white hair fallen from my father's beard.
Back when the Jews were escaping Nazi Germany, many women sewed rings and jewelry into the hems of their skirts and petticoats to transport their valuable heirlooms. Protection of family bibles, musical instruments and paintings was common during political and religious wars, in order to save them from being burned or destroyed. Throughout history in Europe, Asia and the Middle East; the practice of destroying cultural or ideological icons with the hope of annihilating a belief system was common, and is still going on. Isis has successfully destroyed so many archeological heirlooms, not just belonging to Muslims, but belonging to Humanity.
In her book, Heirlooms, Rachael Hall pieces together several war- linked stories gleaned from four generations of family Heirlooms.
“Author and essayist Rachel Hall, who grew up in Columbia, Missouri, won the Sharat Chandra prize for her publication of “Heirlooms,” a story collection based on her family’s history.
“Heirlooms” begins in the French seaside city of Saint-Malo in 1939 and ends in the American Midwest in 1989.
In these linked stories, the war reverberates through four generations of a Jewish family. Hall’s French mother and grandparents survived the Holocaust in hiding, and her family’s wartime papers and photographs, the inspiration for these stories, were recently donated to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. “Heirlooms” explores assumptions about love, duty, memory and truth. “
Wikipedia has an entire chapter dedicated to Heirloom treasures that have been lost or stolen during war time . Some of those items include:
- Scepter of Dragobert 1795
- Crown Jewels of Ireland 1907
- Florentine Diamond 1914
- Lost Imperial Faberge eggs
Seven eggs in the Imperial series are missing:
- 1886 – The Hen with Sapphire Pendant egg
- 1888 – The Cherub with Chariot egg
- 1889 – The Nécessaire egg
- 1897 – The Mauve egg
- 1902 – The Empire Nephrite egg
- 1903 – The Royal Danish egg
- Royal Casket 1939
Art theft and looting during World War II
- Looted art
- Lost artworks
- Lost film
- List of lost television broadcasts
- Lost history
- Lost work
- Nazi gold
- Nazi plunder
What is left behind, we should cherish, and look for the story, the message , the history and the strength.
Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood
Ye that through your hearts to-day
Feel the gladness of the May!
What though the radiance which was once so bright
Be now for ever taken from my sight,
Though nothing can bring back the hour
Of splendour in the grass, of glory in the flower;
We will grieve not, rather find
Strength in what remains behind
I take pictures wherever I go. In fact photography is one of my most favorite hobbies.
Yet most of my pictures remain in a Cloud, or on my computer. I used to print them up, but have become lazy.
One of my most cherished pass times when I go home to my parents is to dig out the old photographs from the loft. Piece by piece we go through them, guessing who this baby is, and that Grand Father was, and trying to put names to faces. We are not so enamored by landscape pictures, or by the Still Life. It is the people that are important; the names of the family members, where they fit in the family tree.
We need to start printing pictures again.. In a hundred years, who knows if the “Cloud “ will still be there… or if there will be an interface to read your thumbnail.
We need HARD copies buried in that Time capsule. We need something that tells their story like the old portrait paintings, drawings and etchings.
I wonder if my daughter will ever have that special drawer with old pictures of me?
I wonder if my old pictures of my parents and grandparents will survive?
Or will I be sold off in a box of old unwanted photographs at an Estate sale down the road, or worse, end up in a rubbish heap?
Food for thought in these troubled times.
Treasures in a Box
(© 1997 Pamela Harazim)
Come, look with me inside this drawer,
In this box I've often seen,
At the pictures, black and white,
Faces proud, still, serene.
I wish I knew the people;
These strangers in the box,
Their names and all their memories
Are lost among my socks.
I wonder what their lives were like.
How did they spend their days?
What about their special times?
I'll never know their ways.
If only someone had taken time
To tell who, what, where, when,
These faces of my heritage
Would come to life again.
Could this become the fate
Of the pictures we take today?
The faces and the memories
Someday to be tossed away?
Make time to save your pictures,
Seize the opportunity when it knocks,
Or someday you and yours could be
The strangers in the box.