Is it me, or are Jewish families super sentimental? I come from a long line of packrats, as does my husband. Many of the things we’ve inherited are sentimental ‘heirlooms’ that have been handed down through the family. Many aren’t even my taste! But I think it’s part of our culture to keep a firm grip on anything and everthing tangible that represents our family and to label it as an heirloom so we don’t feel the need to chuck it out. In the past few years I’ve tried to find a happy medium for the balance of keeping what is sentimental without keeping too much. It’s not easy!
I was recently chatting with a lovely woman I met on YouTube about our need to hold on to family mementos to the point that it creates clutter in our lives. It’s lovely to be sentimental, but when it comes to heirlooms I think we need to be brutal with what we keep otherwise the wonderful stuff will get lost in the midst of clutter and confusion!
My maternal Aunt Diane inherited a very ugly collection of porclean frogs that were quite valuable but not her taste. She loved the family member that left them to her and for this love, combined with the knowledge of the figures value, put them on display in her home. Other family and friends saw the collection and started to assume that Diane collected porclean frogs, or worse, had a love from frog stuff in general! Over time it became the theme for most of her gifts. She didn’t have the heart to make her friends and family feel bad so she quietly just kept adding gifts received to the collection. It was many, many years later that she eventually confessed to my mother. I always thought this was funny, but a sad reality that we keep sentimental stuff to a fault sometimes!
Heirlooms don’t have to be valuable, but they should hold an emotional value to the family that inherits or saves it. For me personally, when we’ve lost family, I’ve kept what can be out on display and used regularly, or the items that would mean something to my children that should be handed down through the generations. For example, my mother-in-law Val was a brilliant cook. She had amazing kitchen gadgets. So after my in-laws passed away I swept through her kitchen and compared her gadgets against mine and upgraded wherever possible. I can feel her watching over my shoulder when I taste my soup with her ladle. And that’s what sentimental heirlooms are all about I think. We want to use their things in a way that lessens the loss and keeps their memory alive with us.
On the flip side, my mother-in-law Val had packed up her mother’s home when she, Nettie passed away. Everything was carefully wrapped in newspaper dated 1958 and stored in cardboard boxes for safe keeping. I discovered these boxes, unpacked, in the laundry room cupboard of my in-laws home after Val passed away. With each carefully wrapped antique plate I wondered why she kept them if she never had any intention of using them. This set is now our fine china for all important meals. Embrace sentimentality, but use the stuff for goodness sake! Jack understands that this was his Great-grandmother Nettie’s fine china and that he has to be careful with it, but he is absolutely encouraged to eat off of it!
Clearly we can’t keep the entire households of all loved ones lost. Even when it comes to my children and keeping their art, mementos, etc. I have to be ruthless. We simply don’t have the storage space! I keep ONE trunk for each of them which will hold their ‘childhood’ and I recognize that the trunk has to last their whole childhood–therefore I sparingly put things in it. I also make a point of dating the art or writing a note on the back explaining what the picture is of so when I look back I can remember. For their clothes, I have been cutting an 8 inch square of everything they/I loved so that I can make a quilt of their favourite clothing from childhood someday.
It’s lovely to be sentimental, and Jewish familes tend to do it very well. We are, quite simply, sentimental saps. It’s part of who we are.