Face it, to my sons,
a pirate chest is just way more cool
than a cracked Bauer bowl.
Seems like lately I’m thinking about more than just “the archives.” It’s not just the boxes of inherited papers and photos that need to be preserved and stored. I also need to do something with the “stuff” that’s too big for boxes and too special to throw away.
What’s the difference, if any, between a keepsake and an heirloom? I enjoy seeing our old pottery bowl in my kitchen. It was the largest mixing bowl in our cupboard and Mom used it for everything – from mixing dough for her signature chocolate chip cookies to soaking hankies and gloves on wash day. Is it an heirloom? Or, is it a keepsake? Is it something to “hand down” to the next generation? Would anyone want it for the memories it holds?
I can’t see either of my sons waxing nostalgic about the old bowl. My sister didn’t want it, either. What am I going to do with it? Write a sentimental tale about all the memories it holds and hope that someone someday will take it home with them?
Another kind of family treasure sits on the floor against the wall in our kitchen This small pine chest lived for years in my in-law’s kitchen, shoved against a wall and filled with garden tools and fertilizer. My sons remember it. The brightly painted pirate scene hinted of the toys and games it once held when their Dad was a child. When it came time to clear out the family home, no one had an attachment to the “toy chest” that was really a garden box, yet we were reluctant to give it up. Instead, my husband carefully washed the wood, oiled the hinges, and varnished the box.
Our sons and nephews recognized their old friend immediately. The toy box has become the grandsons’ first stop on their way into the house. Instead of tomato stakes and garden trowels they find trucks and cowboy vests. The sturdy top is a race track, construction site, and book shelf. With an occasional coat of varnish, the box has promises to continue it’s new role long into the future.
The old toy box was destined for the trash until a last-minute rescue gave it a second chance and turned it into an heirloom. Its history was no more noble than my pottery bowl, but it’s already destined to become a family keepsake. Why the toy box, and not my bowl? My guess. . .
Utility – The toy box is imminently useful at this stage in my sons’ lives. They both have boys with toys and acknowledge the usefulness of the object. It’s not just “taking up space.”
Fragility – While my pottery bowl is fairly sturdy, the large crack along the bottom confirms the fact that it’s breakable, not dishwasher-microwave-nor oven safe. And it’s darn heavy too. The toy chest is obviously made of sterner stuff.
Memory – What memory? I’m the one with the memories of the bowl, not my family. My husband and sons remember the toy chest; maybe they always wanted it to hold toys instead of garden equipment.
Whimsy – Face it, a pirate chest is just way more cool than a cracked Bauer bowl.
I’m not giving in anytime soon, however. The bowl now has a place of honor on a shelf, and the toy box continues to live in the kitchen. I’ve decided the bowl and the memories it holds are really mine, and I am happy to enjoy them right now. I don’t think my family would choose the bowl over the toy chest in a family treasure lottery. Their memories; their heirloom.
But if one of my daughter’s-in-law, nephews or nieces becomes interested in mid-century American pottery, I’ve got a very nice Bauer bowl with only a small crack down the middle. . .
Read more about the history of the toy chest in Before the Pirate Toy Chest Became an Heirloom.
Family Curator says
I'll be watching for your heirloom history, Wendy!
Wendy Littrell says
Love this post + it gave me a great idea for my own "heirloom" article!
Family Curator says
Yes, it's interesting what strikes each of us as an "heirloom." At least your brooch is small and easy to store, Mariann; I wish that mixing bowl was a bit smaller sometimes :>)
Mariann Regan says
Even from the photograph, that pirate chest appeals to me! The colors are handsome. It is strange how some objects draw us, while others don't, and I like your meditation on that ineffable "something" about an object that we want to keep around. I had a toy iron of my mother's that I finally discarded, because it was tarnished and old. But I have a broach with a locket of my grandmother's hair, and although it is also crude and old, I cannot imagine throwing it out.
This really was a cool story illustrating how different heirlooms appeal to different people, either for their utility or because they have a memory of the item from years gone by, like your bowl.