Lea Wait, here, feeling overwhelmed by the history of things.
I know people are more valuable than possessions. My heart aches for those who lose everything they own, in fires or floods or wars.
But I cherish many possessions, and cling to them as connections to family, love, and home.
You see, I live in a house built in 1774. My family has only lived here since the mid-1950s, but I’m a fourth generation antiques dealer, and those who came before me not only brought family furniture, china, toys, kitchen and workshop tools here … in short, household furnishings … that they had bought or inherited but, in many cases, those things came with stories.
I loved those stories, of the tea kettle my great-great grandmother had used in Edinburgh, and the trunks my great-grandparents took with them on their annual train trip to the Rose Bowl over a hundred years ago. The labels are still there.
But I know in my head, if not in my heart, what so many men and women in my generation know: that my children don’t value these things in the same way. Antiques mean little to them. Silver? It has to be cleaned. Mahogany? It’s heavy. And who uses real linen and lace tablecloths anymore (even I don’t), or values a set of their grandmother’s wedding china that can’t be put in the dishwasher or …
The story goes on. So my house is full of things I love, and that were loved before me. At auctions I see the treasures of other families sold for a tiny percentage of their value as those older than I am “deaccession.” I see stories and heritage and a sense of where families came from being lost.
And I foresee the same happening to those things I treasure, not for their monetary value (although some have that, too,) but for what they meant in good and bad times to those who came before me.
I’ve done some downsizing already; sold some things; given things to children I was certain would value them. I’ve donated collections to museums and libraries. I know that after I’m gone my children will probably sell everything that is still here, and the house itself that I love and that my family has loved for four generations.
And all that hurts. Better for me to find new homes for these things than to leave them all to my children, who won’t value them, I think. Which is where libraries and museums come in.
But still I hold on. Hold on to the memories. The stories. The feeling that when these things go, as they will someday, somehow, they will take with them history and heritage and stories that can never be replaced.
And that makes me very sad.