Everybody Has a Story: Humble family heirlooms inspire cherished memories



My oldest daughter was helping me to go through some of Mother’s keepsakes recently. Mom left numerous little notes and instructions, but the real work came when items were set aside and readied to go to one specific person or another. These were some of the thoughts that I was left with.

This small crystal bowl is chipped all around the inside lip. It’s something that few would consider a suitable keepsake. Its value lies not in it being a crystal piece, but that it had been in Grandmother’s family since before the availability of a simple salt shaker.

I remember the first time that I ever saw it on the table, and thought it might be a funny sugar bowl — yet the funniest were the smaller bowls that were used for dipping the sliced veggies into. Each one held a reasonable amount of salt, as did the chipped crystal bowl. Once there was a little spoon that went with the bowl, and I do believe that it made was of sterling. The little spoon was made into a jewelry pin by one of the aunts or cousins.

And this embossed piece of cardboard is all tattered and broken around its edges. Where the painted letters stood out on the green field of base color, the silver paint is washing away. Again, this is an item to be overlooked by many, and likely would have been carelessly discarded but for the story of its beginning. Grandmother Cornelia had been the organist for a number of years at her local Presbyterian church before she met and married Grandfather John T. Johnson on Jan. 27, 1903. This simple printed and embossed piece was their wedding present from her pastor, and it is more than 110 years old today.

It was the pride of my grandmother that she could post her claim as a member of the local chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution to Oct. 17, 1907. Likewise, she guarded the few old family items that she had cherished and moved from her home in Illinois to her new home on a wheat ranch in Sherman County, Ore. — holding them close until it was time to pass them on to her children. That interesting circle of life was completed once again when my mother handed her mother’s keepsakes off to me, and I begin to pass things along once again.

Yet I kept these two pieces. Hopefully, these old things will be passed on again to deserving grandchildren completing another circle of life. Many times, what we elect to value in life has value only in symbolic application and nostalgic memories. I remember the box of toy cars made of iron that I found down in a gully seventy years ago. The true sadness is, while I retrieved them and brought them back into the world, I neglected to care for them and permitted them to go away again.

Certainly, one can’t keep every little thing. Maybe there is some way to prioritize. I suggest that if it makes the heart feel good, and it provides a mind tickler from time to time, then maybe I should keep it — at least a little while longer.

Everybody Has a Story welcomes nonfiction contributions, 1,000 words maximum, and relevant photographs. Email is the best way to send materials so we don’t have to retype your words or borrow original photos. Send to neighbors@columbian.com or P.O. Box 180, Vancouver WA, 98666. Call Scott Hewitt, 360-735-4525, with questions.