My generation’s daughters, most of them, have made it abundantly clear to us by now: They don’t much want the family heirlooms we’re storing for them in our basements.
It’s become the dilemma du jour among many of my friends ― a lingering challenge that snuck up when we weren’t looking. As we ourselves reach the stage when downsizing sounds delightful, we’ve discovered the dark side of having custody of our families’ tangible history. The kids don’t want this stuff.
I’ve been mulling this over for months, along with a surprising share of my friends. As we approach the third stage of life ― the lightening-up, downsizing, unburdening part ― we’ve begun to wonder. What will become of the handed-down largesse we’ve been patiently storing in our attics, our garages and the top shelves of our closets … now that the kids are increasingly saying “no”?
The inheritance left by generations of my female forebears is all down there in cardboard cartons under the basement stairs: Mother’s favorite dinnerware. Grandma’s display of bone china cups and saucers. Auntie’s collection of shells she gathered over the years from ancient Florida beaches.
Coming up next will be my own contributions ― the pretty platinum-banded china I chose with nary a thought of dishwasher safety, the kitchen appliances better been left unbought, my huge inventory of gifts and crafts and impulse purchases that can only be summed up with the one word that makes our offspring cringe … “cute.”
Today’s young adults, frankly, do not want any of this stuff. Contemporary taste runs toward the uncluttered ― sleek design, simple drama and horizontal surfaces free of knick-knackery. They keep their memories in their cellphones. If they’re drawn to home decor with any history at all, it’s more likely to be a warped, peeling window frame from a chicken coop than the fragile Spode bone china that was Great-Grandma’s pride and joy.
All. That. Stuff. Whatever will become of it when we’re done with it?
As the only daughter in my family and one of just two granddaughters, a vast collection has sifted into my hands to curate and preserve. Bit by bit, our home has become the repository of the Thomson-Sandvig-Edmonds Heritage Collection, accented with occasional artifacts of the Ohm and Hanson dynasties.
Over the years, my mother and aunt ― both only daughters ― came into the household goods that had meant most to their respective mothers. As I remember, they mostly stored it in their basements, but they kept every bit. Then bequeathed it to me. Neither had to spare a thought to what I’d do with it, or whether I’d even want it. This was simply what you did. A daughter’s ever-growing legacy was whatever had been precious to the women who went before … whether premiums fished out of boxes of oatmeal or picked out, piece by piece, from the special deals at Dewald’s Fairway; whether selected from the gleaming displays between M&H gas pumps, or acquired after decades of pasting S&H Green Stamps into books.
We are not talking about the family jewels here. This legacy’s value lies, not in resale bids, but in random memories.
Aunt Irene served the walleye she and Oscar caught up north on those heavy Blue Pacific plates. Mom dished up Swiss steak or liver and onions on the mock-Chinese dinnerware awarded by First Federal Savings and Loan with every bank deposit. Grandma Thomson piled her molasses cookies into those pink and green Depression glass cookie jars that she’d bought at the dime store. Grandma Edmonds’ covered candy dish never ran low on lemon drops. My brother and I bickered endlessly while washing and drying Mom’s Franciscan Desert Rose “good” dinnerware ― the gaudy set whose shallow coffee cups had those hopeless twisted-vine handles.
This madness stops with me.
I’m tempted, so very tempted, to box up most of the bounty. I’ll keep only the cookie jars, the candy dish, Auntie’s copper Jell-O mold and one or two of Mom’s trolls. I’ll take it to the Moorhead Rotary Club’s mammoth rummage sale in the Center Mall at the end of April, and that will be that.
I can already sense the relief I’ll savor when it’s gone on to other people’s china cabinets … something like the giddy weightlessness that comes with hanging up the parka after the long, long winter. A little sad, yes. But I’ll balance that by celebrating that these parts of my personal history have been freed to explore happy new homes … other kitchens where sharp-eyed bargain hunters can take fresh delight in their discoveries.
Chances are, whoever buys them will look an awful lot more like me than the generations coming behind us. Then what? It’ll be up to them to figure out how to convince their own children to take it.