Every few months my mother asks me the following: Do you want the ________ that was great-great-________’s? (Fill in the blanks with an assorted array of dishware, spoons, nicknacks and relatives.)
And my answer?
Well, there is a reason why, when my mother visits, she marvels at the empty space in my house.
I’m pretty much over the guilt-in-refusal tactic, but the lady is persistent. I guess my mom thinks she’ll catch me at a weak moment. For the record I have accepted well-loved heirlooms and hand-selected oddities over the years. I enjoy them for a while — and then return them so another relative can have a chance. (Cough)
Her latest offering of monogramed silver plate has prompted me to imagine how difficult it must be to pass along the ancestral hoard to a minimalist in the family. The good news is that, as far as I know, I’m the only one. The bad news is that I’m the only “girl” as my mother would say, and the last possible depository for certain categories like jewelry and similar girly stuff.
There are those out there who would label me an ungrateful wretch, that I should count my blessings there is evidence of my family’s rich history, that it wasn’t destroyed by war or sold for food. (Actually, some of it was, but we don’t know what, so we can’t whine over specifics. Just in general.)
While I certainly understand this point of view, I have also been burned by dragging “priceless” or “antique” treasures through many moves, afraid to sell or give them away because I might incur the wrath of the ancestors.
Believe me. I had no illusions that I was going to end up on the highlights of the Antiques Road Show with any of the family artifacts. But I learned the hard way that beauty (and worth) is in the eye of the beholder. Sometimes, there’s a reason why that interesting bed pan of great-aunt Ethel’s or the frighteningly ornate armoire from the Transylvania side is moving on down the family line.
Are any of you having a vision of the Petrie family brooch from The Dick Van Dyke Show? If you’ve never seen “The Curse of the Petrie People” check it out on Hulu (Season 5, Episode 18).
Let’s face it: All the valuable stuff has been sold long ago for food. Or land. Or passage over to a new land. What remains are remnants that hold sentimental value. And if you are not particularly sentimental, then you’re an odd duck. And one of those ungrateful relatives.
What do I value? Family photo albums full (unfortunately) of unknown faces since most of this information has been taken to the grave. My family is reduced to sitting around the table after a holiday meal making educated guesses.
And the most important treasure I keep? When I walked through my grandmother’s house for the last time, I was told to take whatever I wanted, whatever was important to me.
I came out empty-handed.
I already had everything I needed. The gift of memories.