For about ten years I had the honor to work with a scholar in the field of Egyptian and Classical Art. One thing he taught me that I will always remember was that 90% of the value of any object lies in its story. I think that has great meaning for this discussion of heirlooms as appropriate gifts. Here's a tale of two heirlooms.
Mr. Thipu's Mom is almost 90 years-old. She's still smart and spry but, over the last few years she's been giving us family heirlooms as Holiday gifts. One of the goodies we received this year was a box that had been given to her husband on his 60th Birthday. The box was silver-plate and, over the years, some of the silver had worn off. It was still a beautiful thing because of the story.
Mr. Thipu's Dad had sponsored two nephews we'll call Abe and Ben to come to the United States from China. They did well in this country and had this box made to honor their uncle. The box has a classic Chinese inscription for a gift of this kind. Abe and Ben also added another inscription honoring their uncle as a tennis champion. That was right because, well into his 60s, Mr. Thipu's Dad was placing highly in Tennis tournaments in the area in which he lived. That's a nice story to tell. Mr. Thipu's Mom translated the inscriptions and wrote down the history of the box. We'll keep them together and pass the box on to the next generation. It will be especially nice if one of Dad's Great-Grandchildren plays tennis.
Aunt Roz was my Mother's sister. When I was a little girl, Aunt Roz was a nice aunt who gave me lots of pretty stuff. As I grew older, I started to see a darker side of Aunt Roz. It was all about the rings.
Aunt Roz was thought to be rich. She had stocks, she had a fur coat and she had the fabled rings. They were said to be big yockers. One was set with emeralds, one was set with sapphires and the last was set with rubies. All were said to have diamonds in the settings.. Aunt Roz often said that the rings would go to her three nieces. Throughout my childhood and adolescence I was pushed to do anything Aunt Roz wanted because, if I was impolite to Aunt Roz, I wouldn't get a ring.
My Mother died before Aunt Roz and the distribution of the rings fell to my cousin. I received the Ruby one. I took one look at it and threw that magnificent heirloom right in the trash. It was a bit of costume jewelry that might have cost 3 dollars from Woolworth's in the early 1970s. For me, it had very bad associations.
My Father died in the late 1980s. At the time, Aunt Roz was going blind and needed help in her house. God forbid, she would have anyone but family in to help her. My Mother moved in with Aunt Roz, did the housework as best she could, drove Aunt Roz anywhere she wanted to go and became a virtual slave to her sister for almost 5 years. We tried to get Mom out of that rat-hole but, without her say-so we could do nothing.
Eventually, Aunt Roz had an accident that required medical intervention. It was determined that the house was such bad condition that no one could continue to live there.
We finally got my Mother got into a retirement community and she had another comfortable five years of life. Still, I have to wonder. What did my Mother and I have to sacrifice for the promise of a ring?
There are heirlooms and heirlooms. There are good and bad. It's the luck of the draw.