I love heirlooms. A cherished thing, no matter how small, must carry with it the weight of generations of love and family. there is irradiating mystery in an heirloom. No one in the present knows the reason the first person fell in love with the cufflinks or the brooch, but that heirloom has been imbued with that first infatuation, which it then passes it on to the holder.
I love heirlooms because I love history. Family history is so closely related to personal history; like an inherited predisposition or phenotype, an heirloom tells a person about the people from whom he or she came. It is more than tradition, for tradition is too often used as a comfort and a mechanism of exclusivity. Passing on beloved gifts from one generation to another is a symbolic and reflexive practice meant to remind the giver and the getter that they are more than an individual, that they are members of a broader sphere of association which neither through exile nor self-impelled wandering can they be extricated.
On Mother’s Day these thoughts are interestingly significant. My grandmother died eight months ago, leaving her five children and twelve grandchildren a legacy of motherhood uncommon in most families. From leaving her entire life and family behind in Illinois and moving to the Philippine jungle, to giving birth twice in her home there, my grandmother personified sacrifice. I would have loved to see her with her young children all around her, joy glinting in her eye as she formulated, in her mind, the way she would sew a dress for her baby girl. Along with her arms and a pair of cufflinks, I inherited her passion for creating. When I sew I remember that I am not a lone seamstress, but come from a long line of women who sewed for fun and necessity. Not that she couldn’t afford to buy clothes. Necessity came from a biological, psychological need to produce, from her own imagination, an ontic piece of creativity. I know this is true because she passed this gene on to me.