My MIL, approaching her 80’s, is cleaning out her house and trying to give most of it to us. (“But you’ve got a big house! Put it in the basement!”) DH reluctantly takes stuff thinking it’s probably better for us to go through and decide what’s worth keeping. We’ve found some unexpected treasures. DH was raised by his grandparents and has found things from their house, some small things he remembers and I saw him light up as he was telling me the story associated. And there are things from his great-grandmothers’ house , some of which he can recall the story about also. At first look it seemed like a pile of junk, but with each piece having meaning we’re looking at them more as “family artifacts”.
There are small religious medals. (We’re not of that belief, but keep them for their history and as interesting pieces of art.) There is a brass valve key that DH remembers his grandfather using to bleed air from the hot water radiators used to heat the house. (That piece is sand-cast brass and once cleaned up is absolutely beautiful. The name of the company and the town where DH grew up is cast into the handle.) Also there is the metal-framed ID badge his GF carried when working in the mill where he put in 50 years. And a small enameled frame with a photo of his grandparents just after they married in 1934 which his GM placed under their bed with the belief that it would keep their marriage safe. We have ration chips from WWII, 1922 brass bus tokens with the name of the hometown bus line, bronze key tags given out by the local bank, etc. There are dozens of pieces like this.
We’re making this a family project. DH’s job is to tell us the story about each piece that he knows something special about. I capture this story on the computer. 8 y.o. DD has the job of cleaning the pieces with Dad’s help. For jewelry-type stuff, this involves a trip through my ultrasonic jewelry cleaner, or scrubbing with an old toothbrush. For a few pieces we’ve had amazing results by putting them in her rock tumbler with stainless steel jewelers’ shot. I worried about damage but metal pieces are cleaned and burnished to look almost new this way. I take photos and incorporate them into the stories for each piece. We found compartmented plastic boxes at the craft store to put the artifacts into so they’re all in one place. I’m not sure what the final form of the files I'm writing will be, maybe put into one document and have them printed as a memory book or something.
This is an ongoing project we’re about halfway through and don’t know yet what may show up in the next box from Grandma. But the items we’ve decided to keep are clean and now in good shape. GGM’s original wedding ring is at the jeweler being repaired. Papers including WWI era letters from soldiers overseas (GGGM’s six brothers) and old, beautifully made baptismal certificates are all being scanned and then stored in archival albums. We have family photos going back to the early 1900s and can tie letters or items to specific people in the pictures.
The first box we got had an old, beat up vise. DH said he recalled that always being on his GF’s workbench, and GF had told the story of how it was on his dad’s workbench at the engineering shop he ran in their hometown. (We also have some of the papers and records from that business.) That places it to about 1903 or so. With a bit of encouragement from me, DH cleaned up the vice, had it sandblasted to remove all of the old paint and rust, and rebuilt it to good working condition. First it sat on his workbench, then sat on an older workbench in the corner. I asked him about actually installing it and he said he would like to but that older bench didn’t have a top that would hold it. I measured the bench and have ordered a new maple butcher block top for it as a surprise for his coming birthday – a good place to mount and make good use of the vise. I hope it arrives this week.
None of the stuff we’re finding is “heirloom” quality or of particular monetary value, but it has meaning for us and we want to pass it along to the next generation in good shape with the stories about it preserved. DD is enjoying learning about it and participating in the cleanup/repair/preservation process. It might be that someday her son, or grandson, or granddaughter will be using that vise and we hope the story of it is still around, along with some “artifacts” from us.