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Week 24 (June 11-17): “Heirloom”

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Our optional theme for this week’s “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks: 2015 Edition” is, “Heirloom” — “What heirloom do you treasure? Who gave it to you? What heirloom do you wish you had?”

😦 This one had me sad at first, and, I was inclined to pass on the theme, but I decided, No; this is important — if in reading this just one person “pays heed,” well, that’ll be worth it.

When my mother died my father sold our house, tossed most of our belongings and, all of hers, keeping only what would fit into a 1950s Buick with five kids and one adult. Was he grief-stricken, angry at her for dying on him, what? Who knows, but, nearly possession-less we were moved to another state like Witness Protection program participants or perhaps criminals on the run.

Yes, prior to this I can vaguely visualize older female cousins coming through like locusts in a crop-field before the move, but I was only 11 and not having even been aware my mother was terminally ill, my head was spinning like a top. (Oh gosh — antiquated term there? 🙂 ) Suffice it to say, between the cousins and my father, no heirlooms survived for us children to cherish / see / or even know existed.

So much for ever sitting before the mirror of my mother’s mid-century-modern vanity table applying makeup, or, enjoying the rocker at which she sat nightly with children at her feet, stroking heads demanding “Me, me, me.”

Imagine then, my surprise and delight at coming upon a first edition copy of Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet, with handwritten notes all over the inside of the book written by my Norwegian, maternal great-grandmother! In Norwegian. I could not read a word, but that simply made it all the more precious, delightful and charming.

My maternal great-grandmother, Ingeborg Sigbjørnsdtr Homma (1871 Homma, Gyland, Vest Agder, Norway-1953 Norway; buried Tjørsvåg Cemetery, Flekkefjord, Norway) had, I deduced, gifted it to her daughter, my maternal grandmother, Sally Marie (Rosalie) Eilertsen Fjelse (1892 Fjelse nedre Br.74, Nes, Vest Agder, Norway-1952 WI, U.S.A.; buried Town of Blooming Grove Cemetery, Town of Blooming Grove, WI). It felt like buried treasure might, in my hands.

With a mind to it not getting marred from use? from a glass of something being accidentally spilled upon it? from, I don’t know, dust? cat hair? humidity?? I carefully packed it away with some other stored items in my apartment storage locker, and I never saw it again.

It was stolen.

Lesson One: Don’t hide the heirlooms away. Just don’t. Keep them where they are seen, enjoyed, thought of.

Lesson Two: Value the little, not-“worth”-anything, stuff: I do remember, after her death, fingering my very Catholic mother’s mustard-seed-in-a-clear-glass-bead, necklace. She had worn it constantly, frequently fingering it herself, her lips moving silently, no doubt — this was my very religious mom after all — praying that her leukemia would simply go away like a bad cold. Matthew Chapter 17: “Amen, I say to you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”

Although I thought about saving the necklace, I can remember looking at it with a sort of sadness, able only to think, No. It makes me sad.  I don’t want it. Same with the tree-with-many-branches rhinestone brooch my mother had so loved.  It’s just a sad reminder that she’s no longer with us, I actually remember thinking.

Lesson Three: To the adults out there: for your children’s later sake, set aside mementos of a deceased parent, grandparent, other family members… The average child will not think so far in advance, nor should they be expected to.

In doing some basement cleaning for my mother’s only sister, I came upon a lovely photo of my mom circa early 1930s? PLUS, delight-delight, separate photos of both my aunt and, my mother, at single digit ages in ballet costumes — they had both taken lessons as children. Again, as with The Prophet book, these felt like unearthed treasure in my hands. (Buried treasure was a big theme in my childhood 🙂 — westerns seemed to comprise most of what was on tv back then, and, some of my favorite reads were Nancy Drew mysteries. Apparently this all stayed with me into my early 20s when these “heirloom” finds were made. 😉 )

I was thrilled.

And then I was filled with grief when all three photos very mysteriously “disappeared.”

Decades later, I learned that a sister had swiped the three pics and had them virtually hermetically sealed in frames. (Thoughtfully?? this sister had xeroxed a color copy of the 1930s portrait of our mother should I want it.) As she explained it to me, “I’m sorry, but I can’t have copies made for you; that would ruin the framing I paid for.”

Lesson Four: Share. My gosh.  S h a r e.  That so-very-important thing that we all learned way back in kindergarten yet Lord have mercy do we forget en masse over the years. Also, whether you are Christian or otherwise “religious” — or not — the 10 Commandments are not a bad idea to follow just as a very good list of rules to live by?

“Thou shalt not steal” is a good one to keep forefront of the mind, I tend to think, although, my very favorite “life-rule” is, quite simply, Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

Here in my senior years of life, I am working at creating heirlooms for my grandson and future generations:

  • Through my genealogy research, I hope to put together a nice, coffee-table-type, enjoyably-peruseable book on family ancestry;
  • I look on this genealogy blog and, another, more personal blog of mine, as heirlooms of sorts, chronicaling as they do, biographical material of interest to certainly someone down time’s pike; and,
  • “Story” photo albums and, other such.

Just as beauty is in the eye of the beholder? I look at heirlooms as being similarly so…

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