from A Grandpa's Notebook, Meyer Moldeven
Family treasures are passed along from generation to generation. In time, they acquire the venerable aura of heirlooms. The passage of years
transforms them into antiques that are honored in the family's lore and traditions.
You have several, you say? Heirlooms? Where? And antiques too?
Squirreled away, at the moment, in your cellar, attic, or garage, or proudly displayed in your den or sewing room, the ancient objects eventual departure for elsewhere is inevitable. They have survived one house
cleaning after another and denied candidacy for garage sales and flea markets. Some are treasures from previous generations, or the product of your own hands and, without doubt, they belong to posterity. OK, so this or that artifact doesn't have museum value; it could still be of enduring interest to your family and to the progeny of your progeny's progeny, even unto the xth generation. Who's to say?
The heirloom, or heirloom-to-be, might be a brooch or wedding dress great-grandma wore, or a long ago foot-pedaling or hand-turning sewing machine. It might be a delicate tea set, a venerable book of sheet music
your grandpa's great-grandma brought with her from the old country, a 1920s typewriter on its original stand, a set of ancient but still usable wood carving tools, a widget that the inventor (your Grandpa!) was certain would be a technological breakthrough, or, you name it.
And that may be the problem. You might be able to name it but how much do you know about it. If you made it, usually no problem, but if it's from a past generation, it may not be that simple. Generally, our
forebears gave little thought, if any, to an intergenerational communication that would accompany one of their possessions into the future. To the original owner, the Thing might have been for everyday use around the house, barn, shop, wherever. Nevertheless, such Things
do acquire uniqueness over time, and even if no longer of practical use, they represent an individual's, a family's, or a community's history and perhaps, grandeur.
Cataloging an heirloom rediscovers and records the past and, through the memories of you and others, builds another bridge from the past to the present. Family history and tradition are enhanced by facts that emerge in what you can recall from way back when.
Elements to consider in cataloging an heirloom:
The Thing: What it is, and what it's made of. Look at and feel the watchamacallit if it lets you. Record what you see, feel, smell, hear, taste (watch that last one), and otherwise sense. If possible, sketch or photograph the Thing.
Its History: Where and when it was made; where it's been; anecdotes, legends, evidence of significant events in which it was used or 'was right
there in the middle of that mess,' and the family and community personalities who were and are associated with it, and in what way.
Its Use and Care: How the original and successive owners used it; suggested uses for now. (Oldness is not necessarily equated with
uselessness. Right? Right!) Conditioning or preservation: oil it, polish it, display it away from direct sunlight, put it to work, coddle it, take it for a
walk, just leave it be right where it is, etc.
Many heirlooms eventually find their way into museums, historic societies, and community archives. Even if they do not, preservation and conservation are important. To slow an heirloom's deterioration, store or
display them carefully away from harsh artificial lights, sunlight, heat, and dampness; inspect and restore as required, use acid-free wrapping paper, and just keep them out of harms way. Visit museums and historical societies for ideas on how to protect and display your
What you get in return is personal pleasure, and a store of anecdotes, history, lore and traditions for grandkids, nieces, nephews, and nearby
and distant family whatever their ages. Photos and sketches, along with verbal descriptions and commentaries are constituents of tradition and values-and the finest kind of intergenerational communications.
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Besides jewelry, handmade furniture, and photographs, pass on words!