I’m at an odd intersection. The familiar objects from my childhood look like history to the rest of the world.

In the Before times when I casually shopped, I’d spot artifacts from my childhood at antique stores. Huh?!? Toys like Barbies and transistor radios, kitchen items like Pyrex bowl sets and milk glass spice jars, decorations like ashtrays and the glass swan currently on my buffet are . . . old enough to be collectible. Antiques. 

More startling was the realization that the purpose of those childhood objects will soon be obscure. Who fills decorative jars with spices anymore? When I was growing up, most homes had several ashtrays. Now they’re rare. 

I value antiques from my grandmothers like Depression glass decanters, silver trays, cut glass salt cellars, aprons, and dresser scarves (what I prefer to think of as ‘true’ antiques). Their quaintness and the memories they call up appeal to me, but I rarely use them because they are so high maintenance. If I want younger family members to appreciate those antiques, I’d have to explain their purpose and tell stories about people they’ve never met. 

Bringing the objects and the people who used them to life is hard, but here goes.

Last week I made a pecan pie from scratch using my grandmother’s old wooden rolling pin. Although I never made pie with her, she was the one who liked to bake, so I feel that connection when I use it. I floured an old embroidered linen towel and rolled out the crust on it, which brought to mind one of my grandmother Mimmie’s housekeeping tips.

She was from an era when women were expected to embroider towels, pillowcases, and dresser scarves (pretty cloths that covered up a lot of a dresser top to protect the wood—a lot of energy went into protecting furniture in her day). She or one of her sisters embroidered the towel which also had to be starched and ironed so it would look nice while hanging in the kitchen. 

As a girl, I wondered how I was supposed to use such a fancy towel. Mimmie showed me her secret: dry your hands on the part that doesn’t show—the part that hangs closest to the wall on the towel rack. That way the pretty ironed front would stay nice for a few days. No surprise that I use terrycloth towels in my kitchen!

Beyond the ‘antiques’ in my life is the realization that my lived experiences are also the stuff of history, but that’s a story for a different day! 

What’s the oldest thing in your house? Does anyone besides you know what to do with it or why it matters?

8 thoughts on “Artifacts

  1. I know what you mean about seeing your childhood things in antique stores…that shocked me the first time it happened, but I’m getting used to it. I’m not sure what is oldest in my house, but I am lucky enough to have several things that were my grandmother’s. I still treasure them even if I don’t use them….

    • I know what you mean about saving them for good–they are too precious–but my kids didn’t know their great grandma, so I use her things to honor her.

  2. I just gave away several sauerkraut fermenting crocks. Not sure how I came to have them as we never made sauerkraut. And I have a plastic bin under my bed filled with dozens of hand-embroidered kitchen towels that are too beautiful to be used.

  3. Lovely post, Ellen. How true that the things of our childhood have become collectibles (aka antiques). I have about 5 Barbies from the early to mid-1960’s but they aren’t the oldest things. Like you, I have some Depression glass from my grandmother and they’re probably the oldest items. I also have a lamp with a wooden base that came with my mother when she moved to Canada in the early 1950’s. That would be the 2nd oldest thing. And then there’s me!

    • You’re definitely not the oldest thing! 😆 I’m not sure what’s the oldest. Maybe my grandmother’s dining room table (which we use) or the lace tablecloth for it (which I’m afraid to use).

  4. It’s hard to believe we are the ‘antiques’ these days! 😉
    My husband calls the heirlooms passed down to us ‘holy relics.’ Funny, but true, it is unthinkable to give them away or throw them out. My boys aren’t that interested in them, but I am hoping they may have wives some day who will be interested… I won’t even think about the possibility of grandkids!
    We have quite a few real antiques from my husband’s grandmother and parents, mostly furniture, ceramics and prints from the time she was a missionary in Japanese over 100 years ago. Cool stuff!

    • What treasures! I think there’s a rule that children rarely appreciate their parents’ old stuff but sometimes it’s the grandchildren (imaginary, in my case 😆) who get curious about heritage, which is why my grandmothers’ stuff appeals to me.

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