Friday, December 1, 2017

On Family Stories and Heirlooms

Roseville Pottery , "Freesia Blue," circa 1945
"Family stories make the most valuable heirlooms." --source unknown

I remember my first memory of these vases. The image is fixed in my mind. I'm about three years old and my father is holding me in his arms. I'm looking over his shoulder at the mirror over the mantel (this would have been about 1952) and can see my reflection looking back at me. The vases flank the mirror in their place on that mantel. I later learn that they were wedding gifts to my parents in 1946, given by my mom's friend whom we knew as Aunt Reenie. 

How appropriate was Aunt Reenie's choice. The pair of vases is from the Roseville art pottery line "Freesia Blue," and the freesia flower, they say, symbolizes trust and fidelity. And I wonder, did the beautiful gift given at the beginning of a marriage somehow foreshadow how long and enduring that marriage would be--one of over sixty-six years? 

What a sweet heirloom, only lately handed down to me and now occupying a place in my home. And to think the vases were manufactured at the Roseville Pottery Company in Zanesville, Ohio, a few miles east of where my parents lived most of their years together. Ohio, it turns out, produced abundant pottery art (not only Roseville but Rookwood and Weller, too), especially in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Rich deposits of useful Ohio clay made sure of that.

Oh, the history of heirlooms; the stories they could tell. The writer's imagination begins to shift into overdrive. Will any of our heirlooms find themselves featured in our stories? Will they tweak the imagination of readers like they've stirred our own? Will we tell their stories and thus keep the specialness of them alive?

And just how do we keep their stories alive? Links with ideas that might help include:

Which brings one to maybe a more difficult question: what do we do with these special pieces that come to us when we have little room for them, or maybe even little interest. Those items that tug at our hearts but don't necessarily tug at the hearts of those who follow us. As it turns out, there is quite a discussion about this very thing. A sample of some titles:

What special heirlooms do you treasure? What might be their history? Have any of them found their way into your writing--or hold honored spots in your home? How do you pass along their stories? Have you ever struggled over having to give up or pass on a family heirloom?


  1. What wonderful treasures! And what a lovely story, too. I've not thought much about heirlooms in this way, but I need to. I have a few of my mother's paperweights (she collected them) and my grandmother's washstand she inherited from her aunt. There are stories here, I'm sure. Thank you for sharing this, Kenda! :)

    1. Paperweights? I'm guessing you've got some pretty gems there, Karen :-) One of my grandmothers collected salt and pepper shakers, filled the china cabinet with them. That collection sure held some interesting pieces. Not passed down to me, though, which is okay since I wouldn't have any place to display them! Wishing you a wonderful Christmas season :-)

  2. You're so good at seeing the history behind things! I should think more about that.

    We have quite a few heirlooms. Probably the one I treasure most is a single-bed basket-design quilt in green and white. It was hand sewn by my great grandmother. For years we used it as a Christmas tree skirt, and the matching pillow sham lined our mantel during the holidays. When they began to look a little worn, I wrapped them up and put them away for safe-keeping.

    So many precious things come out of hiding at Christmas time: my grandmother's plate (from her "good" dishes), the water glasses my mom received as a wedding gift, the little ice-skater music box my husband bought for one of our first Christmases. They're all filled with memories!

    1. Peggy, I loved hearing about those special items handed down to you in your family and how you use them. Beautiful, especially the quilt. Very special... I was reading another blog that told how they used their heirlooms to help decorate for Christmas and now I learn that you do, too. What neat touches they must make. Except for some special tree ornaments, I don't have that many treasures I pull out just for the season. Most of my more precious items are in my china cabinet year round. But you're right, all are filled with memories!

  3. Kenda, those cups are gorgeous. This was such an informative article. I looked at and then bookmarked each link. I have quite a few small heirlooms (china, stemware and sterling), my grandfather's bookcase in which he had the complete works of Mark Twain, and also a hope chest that crossed America in a covered wagon. I could use the hope chest in one of my wagon train stories--hadn't thought of that!

    I've thought about sitting my girls and daughter-in-law down and telling them the story behind each heirloom. But it might be better to write it down.

    I'm a scrapbooker, and I wonder what will happen to my scrapbooks when I'm gone.

    When my mother died, she left behind a lot of junk, frankly. But one thing I wish I had was one of her recipe notebooks. For years, she clipped recipes out of newspapers and magazines and filled a dozen or more 3-ring binders. They weren't special, except in that they were made by her. Dad tossed them when she went into a nursing home. If I could have anything of hers now, it would be one of those notebooks.

    But I do have a number of other things she owned, including a set of sterling silver and some stemware and candy dishes, etc.

    By the way, I am ready to start blogging again and in fact, I wrote a post yesterday for the Insecure Writer's Support Group. I have returned to my original blog. If you click my name, I think it will take you there. Otherwise, it's

    Happy holidays, and best wishes for 2018.

    1. Cathy, so good to see you again and glad to know you are back to blogging again. We've had a number of good conversations through the years :-) I'm also glad to know that the idea of heirlooms has spurred you to thinking how you can use yours in your stories, especially that hope chest. What a family treasure it must be! I'm with you about trying to pass on our stories to our kids. I've thought of taping notes to some of the things of interest telling their stories, but haven't done it yet. And your scrapbooks? They are recorded history in themselves--think of the future generations that will cherish them!

      Wishing you a Merry Christmas, too, and a new year filled with lots of writing and family blessings.