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Saturday, April 2, 2011


As a child, I was raised on fear: "Don't touch that. You'll break it and it belonged to Aunt Marion." "Don't sit in that chair. It's really old." I could make a list of things I was told not to touch or sit upon that would be a mile long. It got so that I had to avoid this or that because I knew what the consequences would be if I broke or damaged something valuable or inherited--grounded for life!
As you've read before about my grandparents' house, you will remember that I wrote that it was full of objects like that and I was told NOT to touch things; not in a nasty way but a stern way.
At my house as a child and onward, it was the same.

My mom was a stickler for inherited things not to be touched or used: You just looked at them.
I had more than my share of looking at them. She was not a collector of anything except one collection of small dainty tea cups and saucers. No one ever drank out of them and no one ever touched them. When her mother died [my grandmother,] she didn't choose much to take to her apartment but what she chose were inherited pieces of lovely china and the like. And where did these things go? In her china cabinet to be looked at and never used.

On my part, the things I got from my grandmother's house were antique tables, chairs, beds, a a complete set of china that is a service for twelve and antique glassware. By that time, I had two young sons and here I was saying, "Don't touch that chair." "Be careful with the china: It belonged to my grandmother!" Over the years of moving, gathering more things and the death of my mom, I inherited her things as well. And I wouldn't use anything: I'd just look at it or put it away.

As I write this I have had my grandmother's complete set of china for over thirty years. Have I ever used it? No. It is still wrapped up in zippered plastic covers. And that is so stupid. What about my late mom's collection of little tea cups and saucers? Guess what? I use them. A dear friend of mine was so right when she told me to use those antique things and sit in the old furniture for if it breaks, it is not a tragedy. What a revelation that was and so true.

Why do we hang onto old family items if we can't use them or sit on them? Are our ancestors going to  come back and horse whip us? Of course not. It is the fear that was put into me as a child that I had to let go and I did.
I drink coffee out of those antique cups, eat off of ancestral plates [still not that big set of china,] and drink iced tea out of antique goblets. Why not? All of my ancestors are gone. I do plan to pass things down to my grandchildren and have given family things to both of my sons and their wives--just wish that they would take more. Neither wants that big set of china so I might as well get that out and use it; after all, with twelve plates, I could break some and still have leftovers. Same for the cups, saucers, salad plates and on and on.

If you would have asked me ten years ago to use these things, I would have said no. With the passing of time, it comes to the point that you realize that time is getting shorter and either you find homes for these passed down things or just use them and if they break, they break.
My late Aunt Ruthie said it best: "They are just things." She was so right--they are and I have her "things" as well.

Should you be younger and inherit family items, use them for their original purpose and enjoy them. What matters most are family photos, letters and the most special things such as a passed down piece of jewelry--not dishes, chairs or things. Most of all, I sincerely hope that you are not raised with fear of touching or breaking as I was: It's hard to let go of that guilt but so wonderful to get rid of it! Dishes anyone?

Sherry Hill 


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