I’m currently reading a book called ‘J’ by Howard Jacobson. It’s (another) dystopian novel set sometime in the near future. There are echoes of ‘Brave New World’, ‘1984’ and (I think) ‘Never Let Me Go’ in it. I mention the novel because in its society people are dissuaded from keeping family heirlooms. It’s an unwritten rule that you are only allowed to keep one item that is over a hundred years old. I haven’t finished the book but I get the impression that old things remind people of something catastrophic that happened (or as it’s referred to: What Happened, if it Happened). In ‘J’ it’s not good to remember the past.
This got me thinking about the heirlooms that we have in our house. As I slowly walk the minimalist path I have been questioning everything we own and working out what we really need. This means that some things we have inherited have now gone. For example this week we said goodbye to our old piano because it takes up too much space and we are going to replace it with a smaller, portable electric keyboard.
However there are other objects that we have inherited and will keep because they a) serve a practical purpose and/or b) remind us of our past.
Take our kitchen table, for example:
It was my grandparents’ table, then briefly used by my parents. It then went to my aunt’s (I have childhood memories of all the family gathered around the table), then it came to us about ten years ago. It’s not fancy and, as it belonged to my Nan and Grandad, wouldn’t have been expensive. It has a date stamp underneath the table of 5 Jan 1950. For this reason I do wonder if it is a piece of Utility Furniture: inexpensive furniture made in Britain between 1942 and 1952 to meet the increasing demand for furniture (especially by people whose houses were bombed) while suffering from a lack of available resources to produce them.
I am fascinated by both the social and personal, family history that surrounds this table. It is also really practical and can seat eight people around it.
As neither my husband and I have formally inherited items from our grandparents (only one pair of our four grandparents ever owned their own home), there are other items that have casually come to us and we use on a day to day basis, without even thinking about them.
For example, I regularly use this single serving ceramic pan that my Dad had when he lived on his own. I’m not sure what its original purpose is as it can’t be used on a hob. However I find it ideal for soaking grains, such as couscous, in, or storing leftovers in.
I also have this pyrex lemon squeezer which I think looks quite beautiful:
I do confess to possessing some items that I have kept because they look beautiful. From time to time I use this small china tea set that once belonged to my great gran:
I also have an ironing board which I rarely use, but can’t quite get rid of because it belonged to my Nan. There is a whole load of emotional attachment to this item which I need to work through. If I get rid of it it doesn’t mean I loved my Nan any less. It barely serves a practical purpose as I don’t iron. And yet….
What family heirlooms do you keep? Do you keep them for emotional, or practical, reasons – or both?