Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Stuff and nonsense

The appraisers on Antiques Roadshow always confuse me. Why do they insist on putting a value on items they label “irreplaceable”? What’s the point? There’s no way an insurance policy can make a person “whole” for a lost family heirloom. I’ll never again hold the desktop wooden cross my grandfather carved and shaped and assembled with his own hands, just for me. No amount of money can replace the feelings that evoked, the love it represented.

I’ve volunteered for several years at the Museum at the Friends Home in Waynesville, a fascinating local history museum brought together by a group of dedicated volunteers determined to preserve their community’s heritage. Yet I’ve watched members giving private tours who can’t resist pointing out the monetary value of the artifacts on display in the 1910 Quaker boarding home which houses the Museum collection, from the Stickley bookcase to the nine-foot Black Forest grandfather clock. Why does that matter? If all those items were destroyed tomorrow, no insurance settlement could restock the Museum and the oral histories they’ve collected would end up on a dusty library shelf. Those things are important because of the stories, the lives, the people they represent, not the dollars. Am I truly alone in that perspective?

Over the years I’ve watched in dismay as friends become emotionally distraught over family squabbles about “stuff” when a matriarch or patriarch dies. At a time when they should be coming together to remember and celebrate their lost loved one, they fuss about who gets Grandma’s china, or Dad’s coin collection, or Mom’s jewelry. Those scenes reinforce my satisfaction that our family has little in the way of material possessions.

Grandpa’s handmade cross was lost in a fire several years ago, but I still have his cheap drugstore pocket watch. He always carried one, and there’s an old black and white photograph of four-year-old me holding his watch to my ear, fascinated by the sound. From my grandmother, I have a serving spoon, probably acquired through redemption of her carefully collected Betty Crocker coupons. It’s stamped (not engraved, I’m sure) with an ‘L,’ and each time I have to explain to a guest why that is, when our last name begins with ‘P,’ I have the opportunity to share her life. Priceless.

Last year, when hubby and I bought our first (and last?!) home, Mom announced, “Now you can have the washstand.” I wasn’t expecting it, had no designs on owning it. It belonged to my great-grandmother, whom I barely remember, and possibly to her mother. We’re not sure. It’s rough, and beat up from years of loving use. Antiques Roadshow would scoff at it. Their loss.

Before Nana (my father’s mother) died, she asked me if I would like her family ring. My aunts looked at me oddly when I laid claim to it, but no one argued. It’s a gaudy thing, I rarely wear it and then only on my pinkie. Her fingers were much smaller than mine. But each stone represents a grandchild, a family member. More stories to share and to treasure. I don’t need to know a monetary value.

But these items are all just things. If any of my family asked for them, I would hand them over, no questions asked. Because it’s the people who matter, living or dead, not the stuff. And no one can take my memories.

My fear of losing those is a subject for another day.

See another take on “stuff” at

1 comment:

  1. I feel the same way. Another good thing I got from you guys. :D


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