Maya Angelo said that "people remember you not for what you said or what you did, but how you made them feel". This is true not only with people, but also with objects, pieces if you will. You see a chest from across the room and it draws you in. The patina, the lines, the hardware, but once you learn the story of the piece, the magic begins. You connect to the history, to the prior owners whether members of your family or not, to the artisan creator, or to the historical events happening around the piece. You may buy or inherit the piece, and take it home and actually put it into service. If you just hear the tale and leave the piece where you learned about it’s past, you have still become irrevocably entwined with its story. You take this story with you. Not just because of how it looked, but because you know the story and how it made you feel.
A piece reminds you of your grandmother’s enamel pitcher, or makes you recall lazy Sundays in the south rocking on your front porch or it reminds you of the historical fiction novel you just read about the French resistance and secret compartments in the drawers of a desk or cabinet. A beautifully made piece stirs in you a longing to live more simply, with fewer possessions, but with each one being of high quality, use and function. You realize you need to selectively choose form and function for lasting effect. You begin to surround yourself with beautiful objects that make you feel something with gorgeous patinas, smooth wood grains, sleek painted pieces and the details that provide so much interest. You select and collect things that tell your own story and provide a snapshot of your life for the viewing pleasure of all who enter your space, including yourself.
Even when the objects themselves finally disappear after ages of use and life, the stories never leave us. I was reminded of this recently when my sister’s home was broken into and all of her heirloom silver from her deceased husband’s grandmother was stolen, together with our mother’s wedding and engagement ring.
We both experienced that sickening feeling of being violated and intruded upon, mixed with an overwhelming sense of loss. Something we loved was taken away from us. Yet, the truth is the objects were very special themselves only because of the story and history attached to them and the feelings evoked -warm connections to her husband’s family and strong memories of our dear mother always wearing her simple, yet elegant, ring. Those feelings were not taken. Those are still ensconced in our memories and held close to our hearts and always will be. While the objects were wonderful reminders of those connections and how they made us feel, the feelings are still ever present even without the visual reminder.
So any lesson from all of this pondering is this: Learn the stories, tell the stories , share the stories and pass them on with or without the heirloom piece itself. Many of my generation and older are frustrated that their children and grandchildren have no interest in the pieces they themselves loved. But you cannot force style or feelings upon another. A piece either resonates with them or not. Still share how the piece made you feel and the story of when, where, why and how. The story will live on regardless of where or even whether the piece lives on. Just as true antiques can last a very long time in the proper hands with the proper care, so do the connected stories that can live forever if properly cared for and shared.