Saturday, November 16, 2013

Pam Hillman's Family Heirlooms

What is an heirloom?

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.

I pull out dainty smocked suits that my children wore home from the hospital; a pair of tiny, hand crocheted booties; soft white and powdery blue blankets used to wrap my newborn sons in. Memories of those precious days parade through my head as I touch each object. I shake my head as I finger the baby clothes. It is hard to believe either of my young men were ever small enough to wear the tiny garments I hold in my hands.

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.
These heirlooms speak to me somewhere down deep inside. Their value is special, just like Webster declared. I knew the man who wore the hat, the woman who hand-stitched the quilt, the young girl who grew up to be my mother.

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!

New Romance, Suspense,
& Historical Fiction!
www »


  1. Congratulations Pam on Claiming Mariah coming out in print next year! And thank you for such a sweet and touching post! It was nice hearing your personal stories and the love behind all of them! Your heirlooms were all very beautiful!

  2. Kam, thanks for stopping by. Hold on to your treasured memories and heirlooms! Good bless you. :) And thanks for the congrats on the print book. I love the ebook revolution, but it's going to be exciting to hold my own real-life book in my hands! :)

  3. What a wonderful collection you have been blessed with through the generations.
    Best wishes on your book
    Thank you

    1. Thank you, Jackie. Some (well, most ALL) of my heirlooms are worth a plug nickle to someone else, but to me, they're priceless! :)

  4. I love family heirlooms! I have my dad's mother's silver teapot,creamer and sugar set. I have my mom's awards-a gold medal- from her nursing in the 1940's. I have numerous pieces of china from my mom and cherish each piece. they are all displayed in my china hutch, made by my dad. sharon,ca

    1. Sharon, the tea serving set sounds lovely. Do you have the entire set? That is so cool! And I bet you love that china hutch, too. My husband, boys, and their grandfather made me a hall tree for Christmas and I'm so proud of it. :)

  5. Pam, this was so interesting. I love old stuff. Wish I had more but my grandmother had 6 girls and 2 boys my dad being oldest.He had a big family too, with little money so we weren't around as much as the girls. And, the things she gave my mother were also taken by my sisters. 4 over me. I know she had some embroidered pillow cases with crochet trim. And lots of doilies and dresser pieces. I do have her old time iron, that heated on the stove. and some embroidered kitchen towels she made me for a christmas gift. And, a picture of her at 14, and a picture of her a little older that looks like a professional one in black and white. Love it. I have just a few things from babies, but with all of the moving and having to store stuff, then someone steling a lot, don't have much. I did get some old family pictures of dad's family in a surprise package once from my favorite aunt of older pictures so treasure them. But am sad because there was a group picture(5x7) of daddy and his siblings, except the youngest. The next oldest sister had moved out and gone to the city, and, she looked like a city girl. And, when we had a big flood in KS. it went missing. Was on a dresser so didn't get wet, but someone had to take. I am so sad about that. Their only family picture and only one I ever saw of my Aunt Bertha Maud. Also, I have her middle name as my middle name. my dad and all of his siblings are gone now. I also never heard many family stories from way back. Back then kids were playing outdoors, not under the adults feet. :) one of my daughters does have an old trunk with the oval top that belonged to me when I was 14. I married at 16 and never had a way to move it when I moved to TX. So was at mymom God bless. Congrats on your print book to come out before long. I hope to be able to read it. MAXIE mac262(at)me(dot)com

    1. Thank you so much for sharing this. You know, growing up, we moved once. Both sets of grandparents also lived in the same houses from the time I was born until their deaths, so my family was really blessed to have the heirlooms passed down. It's way too easy to take those roots for granted!

  6. I have an old trunk that I bought at an estate sale. I need to do some restoration work on. This post encourages me to get busy on it this winter!

  7. rubynreba, I had someone to restore my trunk many years ago, but he didn't have the skills or the resources to do it justice. The wood looks great, but the interior is the same as it was. But, all in all, it's fine. Maybe some day I'll have a professional do it. With the internet, I could probably find someone who could really fix it up! :)

  8. Pam, congratulations on your book going to print! Lovely article. I also have an old trunk brimming with precious heirlooms. Among them are two photos taken before and after my father's first hair cut and a lock of yellow curls my grandmother snipped that day. A silly thing, really, but this morning on the anniversary of Dad's passing, I'm glad they've survived 86 years. Bless you!

  9. Julia, sorry I just now saw this in my notifications folder. I try to check back as often as I can to see if there are followup comments. Nope! Not silly at all. My mother has snips of mine and my brother's hair. There's just something about fingering those soft locks, isn't there?

    So glad you had your dad for 86 years.