Last fall, my beloved grandmothers, my two remaining grandparents, passed away within one month of each other. Since then, there’s been a significant amount of heavy lifting for both of my parents as they sort through clothes, decorations, and estates.
Despite the grief and stress, I’ve found solace in some of the pieces I’ve inherited from both Peggy and Dorothy, my sassy, strong-willed, faith-filled grandmothers. What I’ve observed in myself and in several of my family members is that the things people want are objects that hold sentimental, rather than monetary value. I found myself content with my 1991 Minnesota Twins sweatshirt that still smells like my grandmother’s house and the vintage Pyrex mixing bowl set that held decades’ worth of the family paprikash recipe.
I asked several women about what items they’ve been handed down that are similarly priceless to them. Here’s what they had to share.
Katie: Vintage Dolls
When my grandmother passed away, I really wanted to keep some of her doll collection, which she curated from her travels all over the world. They were Barbie-esque (that is to say, not creepy!) and dressed in traditional outfits from the different places she visited. I always loved looking at them and remember when she would let me play with one or two. Before her estate sale, I chose several to keep—the ones I loved the most were from Switzerland, Spain, France, Belgium, and India. I also made sure to take one from Poland, which was her homeland!
Renee: Beauty Shop Sign
Last year, my great-aunt passed away (at age 98). She was the matriarch of our extended family, and I considered her more of a grandmother. My grandmother (her sister) died when I was three, and my great-aunt was there for me every day after that. She ran a beauty shop in her home, and worked as a beautician until age 88. She was full of life and happiness and always made people feel good. In my house, I now have a little sign from her beauty shop that reads, “Age is mostly a matter of mind . . . if you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.” It’s the only thing I wanted of hers.
Tory: Handmade Pieces
I didn’t grow up with any grandparents, but my grandma's best friends ended up being a version of grandparents to me. They were fascinating people (both scientists) who traveled the world, hosted concerts in their backyard, and decorated their home with pieces of art they made, such as sculptures, wooden bowls and eggs, and African drums. Each piece of art had a story (usually from a dream one of them had had), so it feels like having a piece of their stories with me.
Jane: Holiday Dishes
When my mother died, I wanted her Christmas dishes, which are a pattern called “Hearts and Pines.” I enjoy Christmas, including decorating for it, and had never purchased Christmas dishes because I’d never seen a pattern that I liked better than my mother’s. I exchange my everyday dishes for the Christmas dishes on Thanksgiving weekend and use them through Valentine's Day each year—they’re a wonderful reminder of many joyful Christmases!
Kristene: China and Luggage
I love the history of the pieces that I have. I inherited my great-grandmother’s "dayware" dishes and cups, which she collected from boxes of soap and laundry detergent during the Great Depression. I also have the trunk that my Grandfather came to this country with in the 1920s. It’s so hard to imagine moving to not just a new location but a new country with all you own in ONE trunk.
Barb: Memories and Memorabilia
I think the only thing I hoped for at the point when my mom and dad died was to have touchpoints in my life to remember and celebrate the life we shared and to remind me of the manner in which they each had lived out their lives in the world, that I might continue to find wisdom for my own life’s path. We also have at the cottage two medium-sized moving cartons of memorabilia—one for each of my parents—that hold things that were part of their lives before they were married, individual awards, etc. that they received across their lives. I was pleased this summer to hear that one of my sons recently went into my dad’s box to look at a scrapbook with his wife’s brother, who was curious about my dad’s WWII days! Such a great opportunity for my son to live into some of my dad’s story.
Judie: Solar-Powered Queen Elizabeth Figure
In previous years, my mother-in-law had given my husband a beautiful platter, which we cherish. The only thing we wanted from her apartment after she died was, in fact, something we had given her years ago. She loved it. It made her smile. It’s important to know that my mother-in-law not only looked a bit like Queen Elizabeth, but was about the same age. One Christmas, we ordered a Queen Elizabeth solar-activated figurine that had the “Queen’s wave,” along with her little Corgi dog with a solar-activated wagging tail. She loved them and kept them in her kitchen window. Soon, they’ll be in our kitchen window, where we’ll think of her every time we look at them.
Kathryn: Drawings and a Quilt
My son Adam passed away several years ago and was an artist and graphic designer. After he passed, I picked out a few of his drawings, including a sketch he did of a canal in Amsterdam, a place both of us had visited. He actually studied art there for a year, and we had many great email conversations (no good phone connections during those years) as he evolved and learned and grew up as a young man. So that picture just held a strong connection for me of something we shared. A friend of mine also made a lovely lap quilt of some of Adam’s t-shirts, which is a special memory of important things and places he went in his life. In the end, all we have are our memories, and I’m grateful for my visual reminders of a sweet little boy who grew into a talented man and was taken too soon for me.