Heirloom

One person’s junk is another’s heirloom? Or vice versa?

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When does something cease being stuff, junk, or clutter, and graduate to “heirloom?” Is it age? Monetary value? Who owned it? How “cute” it is? Its genealogical value? While it’s a question I’ve dealt with these last 40+ years of doing genealogy, it’s really hit home since September, 2009, when my dad died and Mom moved out of her house and into independent living. Suddenly I became responsible for dealing with/disposing of the salt cellars, soup cups, teacups, candlesticks, Mottoware, Hummels, and other antiques she’d acquired over the years. She had boxes in the basement that hadn’t been opened since 1977. It all wouldn’t fit in her 3 room apartment.

As I catalogued and photographed the items, I’d ask Mom if anything was special: anything that belonged to her mother or grandmother? Items that were wedding presents? I needed information so people could prioritize which items to select.

She seemed a little peeved that I “didn’t want all her pretty things.” Yes, they were pretty, but at 51, I was downsizing my OWN things–ditto for my older siblings! We could not absorb it all. Plus, for her each item meant more. They held memories of antique shows with her friends, or trips to Galena, IL, with its abundance of antique shops and tea rooms. Cute or not, we don’t share those memories.

Then she’d remind me that, “People collect this.” Inquiries at nearby antique shops met with no interest. No shops were buying, because no customers were buying. The stock market kerfuffle the year before pushed discretionary spending way down. Antiques are not necessities! The boxes came to my family room (no basement), but the market in Indy was no better, and I really had no time to make the rounds, anyway. I sent the spreadsheet and photos to my siblings, asking them to claim whatever they wanted. The volume reduced a little, so I repacked the boxes and moved them into Mom’s storage space. I figured when she died, I’d take them to the funeral, let people take what they wanted, and dispose of the rest. I figured wrong.

She’s still here, turning 96 in April. In the fall of 2016, she moved to assisted living. Three rooms down to one, and no storage space. The boxes came back to my family room (photo below). Photos and spreadsheet were shared via Google Drive to siblings (again) and also to her grandchildren. More items claimed! Leftovers were shared with cousins. Some more distributed, but I still have a “wall” of boxes behind the living room couch to deal with. I’ve listed select items on eBay, but I don’t want the hassle and risk of shipping china and glassware, so am (unsuccessfully) looking for local options that don’t include Goodwill. Most “heirloom” items have found homes. I also sold some teacups and glass salad plates to the Sassafrass Tea Room, where they will be used and enjoyed.

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“Antiques” collection from 1 year ago. This is REDUCED from the original volume in 2009! And it doesn’t count the books . . . or photos . . .

One result of this whole process is the renewed vigor Mike has for reducing our possessions. He looks at our Christmas tree and asks, “Can we get rid of any of these?” Unfortunately, the answer is “no.” I really don’t buy ornaments, except one for each new cruise ship, so most of ours have a history. The kids’ ornaments have already been kicked off the tree, so there’s been reduction from that, but most of the ornaments have a story behind them.

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Our tree in 1998. Still all the kids’ ornaments on it!

My mom started buying me one ornament a year after my sister got married. Young newlyweds, and in graduate school, after buying the tree, tree stand, and lights, they really couldn’t afford ornaments! Mom decided one a year would be a good start for me. I made “glass icicles” when I was in high school mimicking the ones hung on our tree and made by my grandmother, Victoria Schweiger Haws. I DO have her originals boxed in the attic, but they are very fragile, and since the tree is full enough, I figure they will survive better, handled less. Later, we acquired the ornaments from Mike’s grandmother, Elizabeth Nolan Kukler. And some actually ARE his: two ornaments from the ones he & his roommate bought to decorate a tree at college, as well as Jeannie and her bottle, and his Raiders helmet. As Mom has downsized–and finally eliminated–her tree, I’ve taken in a few favorite ornaments from my childhood. Plus there are handmade ornaments from my niece, Julie: crocheted and starched snowflakes, or crocheted ice skates with paper clips for blades. She manages to find cute and clever designs.

Does our tree look like a magazine photo? No way! It’s very eclectic. There’s no theme. People who see it for the first time are surprised? awed? I’m not quite sure of the right word, but it usually involves a lot of looking, pointing, and realizing that there are ornaments way inside the tree, not just at the ends of the branches. Our tree has short needles. If not, there’d be no room for ornaments! I don’t know how people with long-needled trees do it.

(Mike just started an Amazon search for “artificial tree long needles . . .”)

You might say some ornaments could be gotten rid of. They are probably past their prime, but they are also among the very few items we own from those people. The color has faded, and they’ve acquired a bit of tarnish and corrosion; none of us are as bright and shiny as we used to be! I carefully tuck them inside the tree–not out of sight, but placed where they reflect the lights, illuminating the interior, while minimizing their flaws. You hardly notice the scratch on the finish or that the glass actually has a hole in it (it’s little, on the bottom!), or the splotch of the spray-on “snow” that was so popular in the 1960s.

I can tell you about every ornament on the tree. My kids know some, but not all, and have undoubtedly forgotten many. Realizing this, in 2017, while dismantling the tree, I photographed each ornament. The plan is to create a spreadsheet where I can list them, link the photo, and document the provenance for each. (Yes, I watch Antiques Roadshow!) At least they will have enough information to decide what they want to do with them, when the time comes. If they decide to drop them off at Goodwill, at least they made an informed decision–I will come back to haunt them, though . . .

So, back to the original question: what what makes an heirloom? I think it’s mostly the meaning we attach to it. So we have 2 challenges. One is to “thin the herd,” so the volume isn’t overwhelming (no, you’re not touching my ornaments!). The other is to make sure those who have to deal with our goodies, know why something was important to us. That just might make it important to them, too. Otherwise, it’s just “stuff.”

#52Ancestors

Valentine

Roses are red . . .

While I know three individuals with Valentine’s Day birthdays, my family tree doesn’t really have a lot of traffic on February 14th. Between births, deaths, and marriages for 5500+ people (granted, not everyone has dates for all 3, and some have none!), you would think there would be, but there’s only:

  • one birth–a married-in from Mike’s side
  • two deaths on my Meintzer side–a 2nd cousin, Arline Ehrhardt Jenkins Axtell, and Hans Adam Ensminger, a 1st cousin 8x removed (nephew of my 7th great-grandmother) and
  • 1 marriage–a 2nd cousin on my dad’s side, Allan Heerey and his wife Mary

I don’t really have particularly good stories for any of them, and don’t know of any romantic proposals taking place on Valentine’s Day. So I started thinking about aggregate data again, and wondered how many couples in my tree were married for 50 years or more.

Being married for a long period of time is more than simply not getting divorced. Granted, that helps immeasurably, but you also have to keep BOTH people alive. That’s a little harder, and less in our control than the other.

Unfortunately, my Family Tree Maker software failed to help me. While it can generate a Marriage Report, I cannot make changes or additions to the information it provides. I get the bride and groom, a marriage date, and the current status of their marriage. Number of years isn’t an option. The Custom Report is no help, either, While “age at death” is a calculated value available for everyone, “number of years married” is not. It’s a little more complicated, since you have to look at the marriage date, see if someone has died, and if both, see who died first. Then you can do the math. Looks like I’m going to have to go about this old-school, relying on my memory. So cousins, if I’ve missed someone, please let me know! This is based on how I happen to remember, so not ordered by length of the marriage.

First up on the list are Robert & Ardyth Meintzer Haws (Dad & Mom), clocking in with 63 years. Mom’s brother, Gail, and his sweetheart, Neva, celebrated their 70th last year, and are still going strong. Dad’s oldest brother, Henry, and his bride, Mary, were going strong for 62 years. His other brother, George (who happened to get married the exact same day as Gail & Neva!), celebrated a 50th anniversary with his “better half”, Marge, before his too-early death at age 77.

My grandparents (Invite to Dinner), though, do not make the list. Victoria died in 1955, just before her 46th anniversary, and Minnie died in 1958, shortly before her 45th anniversary. Nor do great-grandparents Christian and Sophia Gaertner Meintzer (My Favorite Photo & In the Census), who were married only 47 years when she died in 1913. But since she was a 2nd wife, maybe they get bonus points?

Their oldest daughter, Sophie (married to Edward Kranz) was married for 54 years, and her daughter, Anna, was married to Walter Schultz just shy of 65 years. Anna was a huge help to me with family information and stories, and one of the times I visited her, she gave me a ceramic ornament given as a favor at their 60th Anniversary party. I think of her every Christmas, hanging it on the tree. Anna’s son, Walter, and his wife, Connie, were married at least 66 years when Connie died in 2014. That’s 3 generations! Many of Sophie & Ed’s other children also had long marriages:

  • son Emil and Evelyn: 51 years
  • daughter Lillie and Richard Jahn: 38 years
  • daughter Coila and Harry Frohn: 47+ years
  • daughter Mary Ella and Martin Reeg: almost 59 years
  • son Julius and Elsie: 57 years
  • daughter Louisa and Walter Ehrhardt: 60 years
  • daughter Minnie and Ed Ladendorf: 54 years
  • daughter Emma and Joe Poc: 41 years
  • daughter Martha and Louis Kanitsch: 39 years

Yes, some of them don’t quite make the 50 year cut-off, but it’s still a pretty impressive run for one family!

From my dad’s side, [Grand] Uncle Sylvester Schweiger and Aunt Stacia were married for 55 years, their daughter Marita married to Harry Nash for almost 60. And my dad’s cousin, Fred Schweiger and wife, Nancy just celebrated number 60.

Edward and Clara Duckart Goessl (Longevity) had another 2 years beyond the newspaper clipping in that post–with Clara spending another 25 years more, as a widow!

On the not-related-to-me side, Mike’s grandparents, Francis Charles Kukler and Elizabeth Gertrude Nolan, got married in 1919. They had 52 years together before Frank passed away. Not bad, given that they were 28 years old when they married!

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Elizabeth Gertrude Nolan and Francis Charles Kukler, 11 June 1919, the day after her 28th birthday. She had 7 children and lived to age 95!

And Mike’s Uncle Bob and Aunt Gloria are still going strong with 58 years under their belts.

So, is there a “long marriage gene”? Probably not, though looking at Aunt Sophie’s line, it almost makes you wonder! A lot of it is luck. Having good genes and a long life is a huge help. So is the ability to resist strangling your spouse–not always an easy urge to control! But it’s reassuring to know that sometimes we beat the odds on both of those.

#52Ancestors