Saturday, May 14, 2011
In the 'olden days' our ancestors made most of the things they needed. Clothing, household goods, furniture... all were pretty much created out of necessity by those who needed them, or by someone else who would trade his/her craftsman ship for yours. Things were usually too expensive for the average family to purchase, and so the treadle sewing machine would whir, or the hand tools would be put to use.
Some of us are fortunate to have some heirlooms from our ancestors. I'm one of those who do. I have several patchwork quilts made by my female ancestors back to my Great Grandmothers, and perhaps to their mothers, as well. There's no one left to ask about the ones on my Dad's side. It hasn't been used in decades, but as old as it is, it has some places that could use repairing. The fabrics in all of the quilts are well-past a hundred years old, and most were probably previously used fabrics for clothing, so they may be older still. I hang these items outside for airing, usually in the Spring before the sun gets too hot, in order to preserve the color and the fabrics. I wish that I could wash them, but they've got battings that are not smooth, and I don't care to have them 'bunch up' further. The dry cleaner might be able to clean them, but I don't want to risk having them cleaned with chemicals, and so they hang outside for 'dust removal'.
I think about the many hours that were spent by those women who passed their skills down through our females bloodlines. Some of those bed covers are stitched by hand, others by machines, but either way, being a quilter myself, I know the time it takes to create such a work. The women added that activity to their daily list of things to accomplish, and perhaps it was not done because they wanted to do it, but because winter was coming and houses got cold.
There's a chest in front of my mother's couch that she uses for a coffee table. It is a rustic sea chest which belonged to my father's grandfather. It's heavy and large, and I've often wondered how often it was lugged from land to sea and back again, full of items he might need while he was aboard the steamboat he ran from Sag Harbor to Connecticut. I wonder who built the box, whether he did, or his father, perhaps, who was also a mariner Captain.
There is also a ship's model made by my maternal Grandfather. Mom carried it on her lap across every mile we drove when we moved here. It is precious to her and she would not put it down or let it get bumped and broken. (The one pictured here is another of the models he built. It is on display at the East Hampton Marine Museum) We also have macrame items he made while in the US Coast Guard, and some of his hand-done calligraphy things.
These old things, and others from our family mean much to me. We are in possession, too, of things from my husband's family. Some are not valuable, except for sentiment, such as old receipts and letters written before the Civil War times. We have a box full of each, that has been passed on from family member to family member from then 'til now. We often wonder what we should do with them, as only so many can be displayed or placed in a scrapbook. Perhaps they should go to a museum, one local to the area where the original owner, Mike's GrGrandfather the riverboat owner did his business. He did much carrying of Union troops and supplies during the Civil War and was even paid by the Government for the loss of one or two boats to the War. We haven't got that check, signed by U.S. Grant. Mike's mom had it, but when she died, we don't know where it went. It was never cashed because Mike's Irish immigrant ancestor stated that 'this country has been good to me' and he didn't want to cash it.
Whether worth a cent or a million dollars, we are pleased to own such items from our family members. These are a part of our history, and we're proud of them. The quilts that I have that my mother has made, and other items created by her hands, as well as those lovely things hand-crafted by my daughters are just as important to me.
As we collect from those who live today, as we create our own bits of handiwork, we know that they will become heirlooms for someone else in the future years. We only hope that they think they are worth keeping safe, as we do.