Webster’s defines an heirloom as, “Something of special value handed on from one generation to another.”
As I ponder the meaning of heirlooms, I turn to the battered antique trunk at the foot of my bed. Its domed top and shiny brass accents shimmer in the late afternoon sunlight streaming through my bedroom window.
My husband bought the trunk at his great aunt’s estate sale several years ago. It is a beautiful old trunk. Battered, but sturdy, it cradles heirlooms handed down through five generations.
I flip the clasps open and lift the lid, letting the smell of old leather, musty books, and time gone by waft around me. For a moment, my gaze lingers on my treasures, old and new, before I reach for the baby clothes stacked on top.
Underneath a soft baby blanket, I spot a baseball glove, its brittle leather over thirty years old. The glove brings back memories of a brother whose life was cut way to short. Memories of the time he threw a baseball straight up in the air because I had decided I couldn’t miss it if the ball fell on me. I missed—and got a busted nose for my effort. But it really wasn’t my brother’s fault. The whole thing had been my idea.
As I dig deeper, the keepsakes grow older. I pick up a hymnal, dated 1907, a relic inherited from my husband’s great-great aunt. Its care-worn pages are a testimony to the many times Aunt Mary Ann lifted her voice in song. I can just see a dozen or so stout country women dressed in their Sunday best, hats perched just so, sturdy shoes dusty from their trek to church, lifting their voices in song. The song in my head fades away as the hymnal is placed carefully to the side.
In the bottom, I find a quilt. Not just an ordinary quilt—a special quilt—a quilt hand-stitched by my mother’s mother. I’m not sure how old it is. My mother doesn’t know, and Mamaw wouldn’t be able to tell us if she were alive.
I do know that it is old, and worn, the fabric stiff and shiny in places, the binding threadbare, the lining torn. It isn’t beautiful. Its pieces aren’t mirror images of each other, intent on showing off some delicate pattern. It’s a hodgepodge of color, shapes, and sizes. Some pieces of fabric are long and narrow, brown. Others tan, triangular. I spot a few pieces of dull green here and there. But even now, it has a thick sturdiness that guarantees a cozy night’s sleep on a frigid winter night.
As my fingers glide across the surface of the quilt, an image of my mother as a little girl, snuggling under the quilt, flashes like a movie clip before my eyes. As quickly as it appears, it’s gone. I sigh and lean over the edge of the trunk once again.
The afternoon shadows deepen as I examine each and every precious item in the trunk. I marvel at the black velvet pillbox hat with grosgrain ribbon Mamaw wore to church back in the 1940’s. I touch the cool metal of Papaw’s pocket watch, the stiff softness of his brown felt hat. The label inside says Adam, Fifth Avenue Quality, long oval, and I wonder how many hats he tried on, how long he stood in the store, before he picked just the right hat, just the right style, to suit him.
When I’m done, I carefully pack everything away, my trip down memory lane creating more and more memories, expanding, like sweet rolls set out to rise. I gaze out the window, enjoying a quiet afternoon reminiscing.
I have the memories to prove it.
And that’s what makes an heirloom special.
Do you have a special heirloom handed down from your parents or grandparents? We'd love to hear all about it!!!
Okay, I'm just so excited, I'm about to burst!!!
Claiming Mariah is coming out in PRINT February 2014.
My first ever print book. Be still my heart!