Many things get handed down in families. It would be easy enough to pick one and write about that, but I’m taking a different tack, reflecting my life’s current state of affairs. An early blog dealt with heirlooms, but compared to now, that was bush league.
I’m currently working my way through everything that came out of my mom’s room in assisted living, after she died in November. It was a studio apartment—think “dorm room” without a roommate. How much could it hold?
You’d be surprised!
We’d found a home for most of the furniture (donated the rest), but furniture had to be emptied in order to be moved. Everything inside landed at my house. The result looked (partially) like this:
The financial records had already relocated to my house, so didn’t even figure into this. My sister-in-law helped me process all the clothes that Monday night—a huge help! A few we kept, some were donated, most were just worn out, and not appropriate to donate. Hint: when the waistband elastic crackles, do not donate!
That left two days to quickly triage the remaining chaos. Bankers boxes from Mom’s 4-drawer file cabinet and desk? Stacked, untouched, in a spare bedroom. Office and desk supplies? Consolidated into fewer boxes and stacked. Items I didn’t need/want and neither would my kids? Boxed for donating, and out of the house Wednesday afternoon. Things my kids might be able to use? Stacked in a corner for them to look through on Thanksgiving. The leftovers? Piled into the spare bedroom with everything else, and the door closed! The house was relatively toddler-safe.
After the holidays, it was time to start in on the “elephant.” This spring I worked my way through boxes, one at at time, mucking out the spare room. Already in there were odds and ends Mom handed down to me over the last few years, now needing a final decision.
Many folders were easy to deal with, quickly recycled or put in the shredding pile. Others might have genealogical information I didn’t have, so were moved to my genealogy stash, to look through later. Office supplies were donated to school. Lots of boxes emptied out, and I started to see the floor.
A new dilemma surfaced—what to do with some of the items not (yet) disposed of. As a family historian, I rotated between,
- “Isn’t this cool!”
- “Where/How am I going to store this?” and,
- “Who’s going to want this/Where’s it going to go when I die?”
It created lots of internal conflict, not easy to resolve. What items caused this internal debate?
- Mom’s Piano Certificate—a scroll tied with a ribbon, with ribbons inserted and an embossed gold foil seal pasted on top.
- Mom’s American Legion medalion, pin, and certificate. When did she win it? No date on it. What for? No idea. She probably could have told me, but I’d never seen it until now, so didn’t know to ask. Too late for answers. Would the school have a record of recipients? Maybe. It’s probably worth an email or phone call.
- Her father’s U.B.C.W. (United Brick and Clay Workers, post-1923), and I. B. T. & T. C. W. A. (International Brick, Tile & Terre Cotta Workers Alliance, pre-1923) ribbon badges. They’re 5-6″ long, 2-3″ wide, fringed, pretty impressive. The ribbon slips off a pin to reverse to a black, “mourning” side. Were these “regular” union pins, or something worn to a convention?
- Mom’s extremely fragile grass skirt, in the same dry cleaning bag it’s been in since I was a kid.
- Her mom’s funeral book, with signatures of friends & family. Many of the names I recognize, but will my kids? Or my cousins’ kids? And do they care?
- The lists of wedding and wedding shower gifts Mom received. There’s a box of wedding and shower cards, too. For some of these women, it’s the only evidence of their handwriting or signature. The cards are cute and quaint, but does that make them worth keeping?
- The statement from the savings and loan showing the total they’d saved for a downpayment on their first house, as well as the loan papers, and the loan book, showing their payments, with “Cancelled” punched through all the pages when it was paid off. Growing up, we kids heard stories about saving for the house and paying it off. My kids probably remember what the inside of a bank looks like, but passbooks were a thing of the past by then. How does one even explain it, without one to see? Keep it? Or not?
- Cumulative earnings statements from Social Security. How did they ever raise five kids on that income??
None of those items have any particular genealogical value, but they provide glimpses into each person’s life. They season the soup, if you will. Of course, the granddaddy of all these goodies is the oval convex portrait of my mom taken at about 9 months old. The frame measures 23.5″ x 16.5″. The convex glass was gone long before my time. This picture lived on the top shelf of the upstairs hall closet, along with the boxes of old photos and the grass skirt. The photo itself has a dent in it, having no glass to protect it.
It lived on that top shelf at least 10 years, more likely 15-25. When Mom & Dad moved to the “new” house, its status upgraded to being hung on the wall . . . in the basement. Better than a closet shelf, I guess. It lived there for 32 years, when it moved to Indiana (back in the closet), and eventually to my house. For the last five years or so, I’ve debated what to do with it.
This framing style was popular for a time, and the nostalgic look appeals to me. Bubble glass replacements are available, but it needs more than new glass. The photo needs to be popped out, which, from what I’ve read, is tricky and should be done by a professional. The photo surface has at least 60 years of accumulated dust, dirt, and grime (plus a water spot or two). New glass on a dirty photo seems pointless.
The backing is thin plywood, so dealing with that is a little trickier, and the wood frame (with painted flower garlands) could use a good cleaning, too. This really is a restoration project—one requiring more expertise than I have. I’m not saying it isn’t worth it, but is it worth it to me? I’m not sure. Several years ago I asked my kids if any of them would want this picture down the road. They deftly dodged the question by turning it around and saying I should definitely repair it, if I wanted to do it. It seemed like a polite way of saying, “No, we really don’t want it, but don’t let that stop you.” It didn’t really help.
I still can’t muster a compelling reason to restore the picture, or even to feel guilty about not doing it. My mom had plenty of time to have something done about her baby picture—maybe not while she had five kids at home, with three in college—but she had an empty nest for 3+ decades! If it wasn’t important enough for her to take care of, I’m not sure why it falls to me. So maybe I don’t need to stress about guilt.
As far as the rest, I could keep everything, and let someone else worry about it after I die. It would be an easy decision; not necessarily the best one. So I need to curate these items and decide what to do with them. The long-term goal with my genealogy is to digitize as much as possible, making it more portable. As I age and need to downsize, a smaller physical footprint for my genealogy is necessary. One option I’m considering is to digitize the items, and write a narrative to accompany the image. Without the story, the bank statement for the house downpayment means nothing. It’s just a number. But these scraps can fill in details for the stories I wouldn’t have, otherwise.
Throughout this process, I realized I’m the only child looking at these documents and artifacts. I doubt my brothers particularly want them, but geography prevents them from being here while I’m sorting. Would they (or grandkids?) want to see some of these things before I possibly get rid of them? Maybe. So I’ve boxed up interesting items to travel to my mom’s burial next month. Not everyone will be there, but it will be more people than at my house. Perhaps people’s reactions will provide clarity about what to do with this ephemera.
While I don’t have a total solution for all the goodies handed down to me, I’m at least attempting a plan, instead of just stuffing it all in closets or the attic, and foisting it on my kids. Hopefully I’ll hang onto (and hand down) the right things.