Writing Stories For Your Family Heirlooms

Writing Their Stories Gives Life To Family Heirlooms

In Downsizing Family Heirlooms I warned that you should “be prepared to be disappointed!” I wrote about “what is”, “how to” and the history of family heirlooms. The more I wrote the more dissatisfied I became with my ramblings and explanations. It wasn’t until I began writing my conclusion that I understood what I really wanted to write was the stories behind my own family heirlooms. Now, any blogger will tell you that if you make your reader scroll too far down the page you are in danger of them missing the punch line of your article. There is no way my mother’s flying brass ducks were going to be relegated to blogger oblivion! In this post, family heirlooms are given back their stories that will go with them into the future for as long as those stories are remembered.

Mum’s Flying Ducks

What Is An Heirloom Worth?

Those who new my mother would have described her as a “character”. She was born in the East End of London and rarely left it. In the early months of WW2 the residents of London were organised into a mass exodus from the city to protect themselves and their children. Her destination was Tavistock, a market town in West Devon. It seems that country life was not for her and, as this time became known as the “phony” war, she & my sister returned back to the city. With my father already deployed she did what she always did and re-joined the work force. The job she spoke of most often was putting “baffles” into the fuel storage of army tanks. On the recorded tapes I have she laughs as she tells me about her work mates asking her to slow down! It was not working at top speed for the war effort that motivated her but rather getting ahead of the others on the assembly line so she could go out for a “smoke” while they caught up!

After the war she was able to stay in the work force thanks to the free nursery care policy and the restructuring of Britain. Even with full employment life in post war England remained hard for many years. 50 years after the war Mum would still spoke bitterly of how repatriation money flowed into Europe while housewives in UK still carried ration books and lived next to bomb sites. Among other family dramas this was probably the impetus behind my parents taking up the offer to become Ten Pound Poms and emigrating to New Zealand where they embraced the cultural changes with barely a murmur!

Her work ethic fitted seamlessly into the changing role of women.In the 1980’s the New Zealand Federation of Labour adopted the Working Women’s Charter, the government’s Employment and Vocational Guidance Service promoted the slogan, ‘Girls Can Do Anything‘ . From the side lines, in my mothers era I would say many women had been doing “anything” & “everything” all their lives! With work came relative posterity for this Cockney Sparrow. Having what the economists call “disposable income” allowed Mum to buy “nice” things which she treasured and cared for. Brass ornaments were her favorites. Cleaning them became a ritual that I, and my children, have stored away in our, “Do you remember” memories.

Caring For Family Heirlooms

Surrounded by her brass, soft rags, Brasso and a glass of beer she would rub & polish until they shone as bright as the most precious piece of gold. Today I cleaned the brass happy in the knowledge that “The Ducks” will go to a happy home. Their story lies in the woman who loved them, and the daughter who carried them with her from one country to the next. The next story will be for someone else to write.

Whose Rosary?

At this point in time the true story of the Rosary is unknown: and that is it’s story. Both my mother and I were unscripted travelers. Neither of us are travelers in the sense that our motive was one of cultural experiences. Nor was the semi-itinerant life one of “finding ourselves” (Mum would have scoffed loudly at that) Each time we moved we nested quickly and took on the persona and lifestyle of all that surrounded us. You can read more about our various nesting spots in Not The Beginning.

Mum was not one for accumulating possessions (or money for that matter). If you had enough of everything then there was no point in storing the stuff you didn’t need. Unfortunately that meant my Beano albums, school report cards and treasures quietly ceased to exist. My excuse is just as valid (to me anyway) in that moving from New Zealand to London followed by living on a boat in Australia meant financial restraints limited what I could carry and spatial constraints limited what I could store. How then did the Rosary beads survive to become a family heirloom. My family research has not turned up any Roman Catholics. In fact a very large number of them can be found on the Weslyan Register in Norfolk. As my ancestors moved from Norfolk to London there appears to have been a religious movement to the Church of England.

It is my belief that if any item can survive my mother’s approach to material possessions and my unplanned living arrangements it deserves to become a family heirloom…….with or without a story.

Gift of Memories

Family Heirloom of Memories

The memories in this box are shared memories. They were given to me by my daughter before I left for a journey of 12,000 miles that would take me 10 years to permanently retrace. The memories she shared were chosen to remind me that the smallest happenings in a child’s life can be re-visited as an adult to expose it’s true value. As a child, when I taught her to tie her shoelaces she knows, as an adult, it was a gift of independence and self worth. I doubt she realised that these shared memories would one day take on a much larger role as the years passed. Today I read them all again. At an age when there is more time for reflecting on the road taken, it has been a gift of validation. Validation that I have achieved far more than I gave myself credit for. Her sharing it with me was a simple gift of love which is the perfect definition for a family heirloom

Labour of Love

Heirloom Labour Of Love

I wrote earlier about my mother’s work ethic that never wavered nor decreased until she reached retirement age. For her retirement meant a time of “no work”. Her home became the focus as she cleaned and polished to her hearts content. Reading (cowboy books) playing bowls and visiting her children were not enough to fill her days so she taught herself to crochet. It began with coloured edges around wash clothes (these even had a mention in a grandchild’s eulogy),which then progressed to well starched doilies. Her pièce de résistance has to be a 5′ x 9′ (152cm x 275cm) table cloth. At the time, I watched her arthritic fingers weave the fine thread in and out & was impressed with her self taught skills. Now, as my own arthritic fingers encroach painfully on my activities, I’m impressed with her stubborn determination and quiet courage. The table cloth has had little use since the final piece of cotton was woven neatly into the last medallion. Other than a few Christmas gatherings it has traveled far and been hidden in many boxes. My hope is that it will gather momentum in the years to come and take pride of place at many joyous occasions; but if it is destined to remain a little longer in a box, my hope is that it will be no less loved.

A Child’s Gift

A Child’s Family Heirloom

With this family heirloom the pedigree is undeniably mine due to the fact that I made it! To be truthful I covered the box under the tuition of my brother-in-law. My sister was 10 years older than me and with the death of my brother (see Love Letter For Jimmy)coupled with her not moving around with the family in New Zealand, the age gap meant that it was not until I was an adult that I really knew her as a sister. In all my growing up years I have few memories of anyone spending time with me in an activity that could be described as “fun” My sister and I share a bed for many years and sometimes she would read to me from her school books. I remember never understanding who “Mr Polly” was but being read to was definitely a memory “keeper”. Once she was married and had set up her home I had a place to go to for holidays. Being an almost only child of working parents it was something to look forward to. Her husband was a simple, kind man whose family became his life’s work. His “hobby” was gardening and his skills, learnt from his father, were legend. Although his 4 sons didn’t know it at the time, they too were destined to become gardening gurus. One sunny afternoon he gifted me his undivided attention in the upcycling of an old biscuit tin that would become the first, hand made present, I remember making. It may be I’m stretching the “family heirloom” label but, for the 10 year old Vicki, it was a priceless gift. Today that much loved gift has become a comforting, timeless memory of someone who cared about me.

A Child’s Family Heirloom

20th Century Heirloom

A Unique Family Heirloom

This family heirloom is unique. To all Royal Doulton collectors out there who are questioning the uniqueness of “Wedding Day” remember it is the memory it evokes, rather than item itself, that makes yours and mine unique. My husband and I bought our version to celebrate our marriage. We had few photos and there was no recorded wedding dance or wedding cake to cut which meant “Wedding Day” became a tangible reminder of our day. I hope my very personal heirloom will find it’s place in the future but, if not, I must heed my own words in, Downsizing Family Heirlooms, with true understanding for those I love most.

You give but little when you give of your possessions. It is when you give of your self that you truly give.

Kahlil Gibran


I may not be able to decipher Egyptian hieroglyphics or read the Dead Sea Scrolls but I do recognize a perfume bottle, a comb and a child’s toy when I see it. That familiarity connects with me as I imagine the people who used them . Maybe my understanding of family heirlooms does push the boundaries but I’m content with knowing that my personal “family heirlooms will make a connection with the family yet to come through the stories I write.

11 thoughts on “Writing Stories For Your Family Heirlooms

Add yours

  1. A great read! Like your mother, mine too lived through the war in London (East London too) and came to New Zealand in the late 1950s. There is much in this blog that resonates in my life too. Mind you, our ducks were plaster, not brassI have shared the link to your blog with our family history writing group for inspiration. Thanks for a great read.


    1. It’s such a boost when someone takes the time to let you know they connected with your writing. As your writing group will know it’s often easier to write than share! Thank you so much.


    2. Who would have thought two strangers would connect over ornamental flying ducks! Thank you for sharing my link to other members of your family history group. All suggestions and comments gratefully received.


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