Heirlooms are a funny thing. I have a number of them, things handed down through the generations which I keep and I treasure because of who they belonged to, even if I never met the person nor like the item.
I have a crucifix which was my great grandmother's. I am not a Catholic, I'm not even religious, and I find crucifixes to be creepy, yet I keep it. Why?
Every time I look at it in my jewellery box, amongst the things I wear regularly, I think of a woman I never knew. Someone who in technical terms means nothing to me as I didn't know her nor love her and her absence to the world is not something I mourn, and yet without her I would never have existed. My mother would never have existed and my daughter would never have existed. By keeping it and acknowledging it I am, in effect, giving a nod of respect to a woman to whom I owe my life.
I have a mirror that my grandmother made, books that were my mothers, a cardigan knitted by my aunt. I have trinkets and jewellery, bits and pieces about the place, some with material value and others just sentimental, all of which serve to remind me of my past and where I came from, things which I keep mainly for their worth just to me.
My mother's mother was an interesting woman. Selfish, domineering and at times cruel, but at the same time loving and a significant part of my childhood. At the end of her life she lived with us for quite a while. We were there 'til the end. She left me an antique sewing box, a hexagonal solid wood piece of furniture which I loved, and not just because it was hers, it was genuinely something unique and rather beautiful. When I was a young woman I was in an abusive relationship. When I got away he kept certain things of mine as punishment for me leaving, one of them was this table. I didn't get upset about the significant monetary value of it, nor was it because I genuinely liked it as a piece of furniture. I got upset because it was the only thing my grandmother had chosen to leave to me. Certainly I have other things of hers, which my own mother has given me over time, and for those I am grateful, but, and even though I am not the biggest fan of who she was as a human, the fact this was something she specifically wanted me to have means a lot. And it is gone.
Applying sentimental value to items is a funny thing. I cherished that table because of whom it belonged to and the memory of her that came attached to it. Yet, without that table being in my life for nearly a decade now, I still remember her. I still remember her face, I remember what she was like, and I remember who she was. If people live on in our memories, she still lives on in mine even without me having that table.
When I think about leaving this world, and what I want to leave my children, it is not material things I want for them. I want to leave her with a strong sense of self and a respect for who she is. I want to leave them with strong hearts filled with love so it's harder for this world that is sometimes so cruel to knock them down. I want to leave them with self respect so they demand people treat them accordingly. I want to leave them with memories. I would far sooner they have happy memories filled with love and joy of their time with me than some trinket or piece of jewellery that represents me. I would rather they look back on their time with me and value that above and beyond any items. I want to leave them as strong, independent adults with kind hearts, honest minds, and good souls. I want to leave them surrounded by people who love them for that kindness, honesty and goodness.
Yet I know I want to leave her these things that, for some reason, mean so much to me.
The sentimental value I attribute to inanimate objects is still significant enough that I treasure them and wish to hand them on, and I hope they love and respect them for their representation of our history and where they came from just as I have. Will she hang the mirror her great grandmother made over her fireplace just as I have done? Will she wear her grandmothers ring and smile, remembering it on my hand just as I remember it on my own mother's?
Those memories and reminders that come from objects matter. Without those objects those memories would fade and die as so many do. I don't remember how my mother's hands looked in other rings, only the ones I have. I wear them and my mind superimposes my mother's hands over mine and I smile. Her hand, my hand. Memories contained in that ring which would otherwise be lost. Memories that, in and of themselves are of little value, but a time will come in my life when all I have left of a mother I so adore is memories. Then those images in my head will become worth more than any piece of jewellery I have ever owned.
The value of heirlooms is not in the value itself. The value in heirlooms is in the memories and history of ourselves which come attached. Respecting and valuing them is paying respect and tribute to the people who gave us a chance to exist.
If all I leave them with is a strong mind and a good heart then I will be satisfied because those matter more than any objects. But if I can leave them with some memories too, something they can hold and remember a time when they were with me, laughing and smiling, playing and joking, feeling loved above all else, then that is better.
When we're gone we're gone, but as long as our essence is held in the memories and hearts of our descendants then part of us lives on and continues to enrich their lives in some small way, and that is the dream I wish to hand down.
You can check out all my contact info and links on www.jjbarnes.co.uk, I'm on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram so you can get in touch on there, as well as find links to all my work. There's also www.sirenstories.co.uk where you'll find other work from Siren Stories and extra information. My first novel, Lilly Prospero And The Magic Rabbit, is out now and available on Amazon.