This cleaning marathon I’ve been on has me reacquainting myself with a wide variety of once hidden family treasures. It all started during the lockdown to combat the world coronavirus pandemic, which coincided with the time for an extensive spring/Passover cleaning.
Some of the things I’ve come across are so important to my husband and me that they’re now hanging on our walls. Photographs of revered ancestors complement the adjacent wall of pictures, which spotlights 10 of our uncles who served in WWII. The image of one of our two uncles who were in WWI is part of the collection. In light of COVID-19, it’s particularly noteworthy that two of our hero uncles are known to have survived the 1918 Spanish influenza.
Sepia-toned school pictures, which include our family members with their classmates, date as far back as the 1920s, and join our other keepsakes. Hanging the pictures required due diligence, which entailed recording identifying information on the backing of the frames.
While standing on a ladder to clean the glass panels of our secretary-bookcase, I stumbled upon a hidden gem. Gently opening the doors, I spotted a now-empty can of No. 9 Requa’s Charcoal Tablets for Stomach Troubles resting on a shelf, with the exception of a crumbled strip of paper inside the container. On the rust-stained paper, my Aunt Fannie had written: “Mother[’]s Wedding Ring.” Some 25 years ago, when I originally found the hidden ring stored amongst her belongings, I wisely thought to add another note.
Recording my paternal grandmother’s maiden name, along with her married name and its Americanized version, will ensure that no one will be confused as to which “Mother[’]s Wedding Ring” is tucked away in the pillbox. Although the plain, thin gold band merely holds sentimental value, it’s nice to know who wore it.
On the other side of our family room rests a violin in its original case, atop a chair skillfully created from tree branches. At the side of the chair sits a basket, also designed from branches. Zayda, my husband’s maternal grandfather, a carpenter, once handled those items, which we affectionately display. That Zayda played and fixed that violin, crafted the chair and wove the basket is very meaningful.
As I meander from room to room, more and more sentimental items catch my eye. Touching the 1925 Treadle Singer sewing machine, once used by my paternal grandmother, fills me with emotion. I can visualize her sitting there guiding the fabric, while rhythmically operating the cast iron base presser pedal with her foot.
Shortly before our 1975 wedding, my parents gifted us two silver candlesticks for lighting Shabbat candles. After I gave birth to our first child, my parents presented us with an heirloom brass candelabrum, designed with three candle holders. They wanted us to have it to light an additional candle each week, representing our growing family.
When I questioned where the ornate piece was from, the unconfirmed answer was that my paternal grandparents gave it to my uncle and his bride on the occasion of their 1937 betrothal. I wish I knew the actual history of that antique brass piece, which I still use every week to light Shabbat candles.
Ignited by the sprinkling of family heirlooms described here, an inventory of all our worldly possessions swirls around in my head. Now is the perfect time to make a detailed list of all those prized items in our inventory. Follow my lead. Someday, whether you’re around or not, someone will thank you.
By Sharon Mark Cohen