When I was 8 or 9, I recall listening in horror as my mother listed all the family heirlooms (or her own valuable possessions) and who in the family would receive them some day. Two things took hold in my mind as she rattled off each object and its future owner:
- Imagining my mom dead. Despite my fascination with death since age 3 and my delight in all things morbid and creepy, thinking about my mom that way when I was a little girl (not only missing out on my life, but desiccated, wormy, and all manner of yuckiness)…kind of shitty.
- Imagining my brother and I shrilly screaming at each other from opposite ends of a court room (we didn’t get along growing up…at all) as we did legal battle over possessions prized only by the dead.
My mom’s things and family heirlooms never mattered to me. I put her list out of my mind completely, unwilling to entertain hopes or fears related to such a strange concept. The idea of taking care of something (to the point of not using it for fear of damage or, heaven forbid, signs of use) for the sole purpose of passing it on to someone later on boggles my mind.
I love old things and their stories. That’s part of my fascination with the dead and cemeteries. History fascinates me. Items of historical significance, things with a story, that sort of makes sense to me. But none of these items had a story that I was told. None of it had any sentimental value to me, other than it had value to someone in my bloodline. Collecting objects for the sake of taking care of them and passing them along is a bundle of stress I cannot abide.
When my paternal grandfather passed away, my grandmother asked me if I would take the jars of foreign coins. The coins have no real value whole, they’re more valuable melted down into their metals. As a coin collector, my grandfather would regularly get small pouches of miscellaneous foreign coins and put them into jars so his grandchildren could play with something that he could relate to and teach us about. I no longer play with the coins, but since I have non-biological children in my life, I took the coins to pass on the joy. If I am blessed with children of my own and one of them wants to take the coins as an adult, that’s fine. But I’m not going to insist anyone keep something in the family that has absolutely no value. No one is demanding how I take care of them or who I pass them along to. They are for me to enjoy as I see fit.
Maybe it’s because my paternal family is new to this country, having come from nothing after fleeing the Armenian genocide in 1912. My maternal family has been here at least since before the Civil War. Things have been collected, cared for over the last two centuries (although I’m unaware of any pieces more than 100 years old).
The whole concept of anticipating getting stuff when someone dies freaks me the fuck out. Don’t get me wrong, I like stuff if it has a purpose, even if that purpose is completely aesthetic. However, I can safely say that when I walk into a relative’s home, I have never looked at an object and thought, “I can’t wait until I can OWN that!” Sure, I have lusted over the things that my family owns. But I don’t lust over that singular thing because, well, I have the Internet. I price check that shit and make plans to purchase my own. Isn’t that what (fairly) normal people do? Besides, if I fuck up (or my cats destroy) something I paid for, I don’t have to answer to anyone or feel even remotely guilty about its deterioration.
A few years ago, my maternal grandmother had her things packed up. I realize I don’t know the whole story, but the short of it is, she wanted someone else to take care of her. My mother and aunt set her up in a nice retirement place in Southern California and divvied up her things between the three of us. Some non-heirloom furniture when to consignment. Some things went into the garbage. In the end, I was tasked with the care of some furniture that had belonged to my great-grandmother (I think). Two armchairs, two benches, two lamps, and one very awkward end table.
The lamps are so delicate, I’ve been afraid to even dust them. The armchairs by far get the most use by the cats and me. The cats love one of them in particular, but I have to keep all the furniture covered to deter the cats from using them as scratching posts. I’m on edge whenever someone else sits in one of them, for fear they will weaken, break, somehow damage my inanimate ward. I cannot fathom how anyone could lust over a possession only to incur years of anxiety toward its care.
Over lunch a couple weeks ago, I made mention to my parents that I was selling most of my stuff in an effort to significantly downsize my possessions so I can live in something more the size of a studio apartment. My mother frantically demanded the heirloom furniture back. I assured her that I had absolutely no intention of selling any of the family heirloom pieces, but asked her what pieces she wanted in particular and I would get them to her.
Over the weekend, I gathered up all the furniture and asked my mom if I could keep a particularly favorite armchair.
Well, apparently that was the very one my mom wanted since she was 10 years old. But, she said, since the cats liked it so much I could keep it as long as they were alive.
Attaching a piece of furniture to the expiration date of my cats is WEEEEEIIIIIIRRRRDDDDD! Oh hells no! I don’t care how adorable the cats look snuggled up in their favorite chair. I will get them a new favorite chair!
So last night, I packed up every single last piece of it and gave it back to my mom. They certainly mean a lot more to her than they do to me and really she should have them. I no longer have to worry about the cats tearing up an antique, me scratching the wood during a move, or figuring out how to replace something irreplaceable. Maybe someday in the very, very, VERY distant future I’ll claim them again, or maybe my brother will, or maybe they’ll be claimed by someone or something else. Whatever. I’m just thankful I don’t have to worry about them anymore.
Now I get to go armchair shopping and pick out something I like and want that fits my space and life. Something I can scratch, dent, break, fix, re-upholster, destuff, or set on fire and beat the ashes with a stick while doing a Mexican hat dance. If I want to, that is.