34 Comments
Mar 27Liked by Elissa Altman

I'm in the antique jewelry business- talismanic stuff. A story to share- A woman came into the shop with a very long, (maybe 4 feet), heavy 18k yellow gold chain. She wanted my shop to cut it and make 6 or 7 bracelets out of it. She shared that the chain had been sewn into the hem of the dress her great grandmother wore when emigrating to the US from Greece as a young widow with 3 small children. The chain was meant as insurance, a way to bribe people along the way as needed to insure safe passage. It remained intact, and my client had inherited this entire chain. To truly honor the family matriarch, this woman had enough jewelry made from the chain to give a piece of it to every one of her Yaya's female descendants. THAT'S how to do it!

Expand full comment
Mar 27·edited Mar 27Liked by Elissa Altman

I remember going to the 26th street flea market and looking at a seemingly untouched drawer full of little things, which reminded me of what someone might find when any of us die. A few years ago,after my mother’s death and the sad necessity of selling out funky but cool family home of 55 years,I had to be pretty ,well, practical, going back to a 600 sq. Foot walkup.I kept some things,and whenever they get touched,they bring back memories….but less is more. Someone is going to empty out My apartment some day.

Expand full comment
Mar 27Liked by Elissa Altman

My maternal grandparents both immigrated from Norway. My grandmother on one of the last steamers out of Norway before they were all conscripted into the navy for WWI. Coming from a family of wealth she brought with her a trousseau of class, privilege and beauty. Many things that were treasured and meaningful. She married my grandfather, a man of little means but still created a lovely life for them and their 6 children. She was a concert pianist in Norway and played for the king. One of her children a child prodigy. She was an amazing cook who created all of the wonderful things that were her heritage to feed and love her family. Her tables were always beautifully lain with crystal, china and silver candlesticks. All my childhood christmases spent at that table. In the 70s through no fault of her own, a gas leak in the frozen road demolished her beautiful home and most everything in it when it exploded. Though rebuilt but without many of the items that surrounded her from her homeland, she passed away less than a year later. I have always thought that our treasures hold a piece of our hearts, I know they did for my grandmother. For me a beautiful oil painting, a china platter and a tiny dolly she gave me are all that is left to me. The memories of her fill me with joy, a legacy of cooking for loved ones (I’m a chef), a beautifully set table, love of music and old houses. Many other items of beauty stand in the place of the ones she so lovingly transported from Norway now but the love of all of these treasures rests in the memories she shared and passed on to me.

Expand full comment
Mar 27·edited Mar 27Liked by Elissa Altman

To answer your question, yes, this has happened. My mother wanted her mother's things and they disappeared. To stave this off, my mother decided to ask my sisters and me what we wanted, and she labeled each item, as possible, with the info. Unfortunately, even that did not work, as it turns out an unscrupulous sibling removed the labels and took what she wanted. As Erma Bombeck said, "Family: The ties that bind and gag."

Expand full comment
Mar 28Liked by Elissa Altman

I saw a pair of Sabbath candlesticks on Ebay. Researching the hallmark I learned they were made in Warsaw pre-1890. Silverplated. The seller did not know what they were- she found them in some thrift store in the Midwest . I rescued them for $50. They are precious to me. Some Friday evenings I light them for all those who were lost in Europe and were never again able to cherish their things nor bring light to their Sabbath home.

Expand full comment

After my mother's death when I was 14, the material culture of my childhood disappeared. My father took himself off and I lived with relatives; when, two years later, I rejoined my father and his new wife, everything I had known growing up was gone. Would I have wanted HER (wicked stepmother) to touch any of it? It did include a set of Royal Danish silverware that was supposed to have been my bequest, but who wants to do all that polishing? It had been sold to help settle my father's debts. I lost mother (to alcohol and misery), and the things that had given our homes continuity across several moves went with her. It seems fitting a clean, if deeply traumatic, break.

Expand full comment
Mar 27Liked by Elissa Altman

When my mother died I was left out of her obit. I understood why. I left. I got away. And yet. The disconnect extending to the afterworld was jarring. Book writing jarring.

Expand full comment
Mar 27Liked by Elissa Altman

This was very interesting and beautifully written as is everything you write. Thank you so very much.

Expand full comment

Lovely as always. Thank you.

Expand full comment

Great piece, Elissa.

I learnt early on to never get too attached to ‘stuff’ as my father sold everything that wasn’t bolted down to keep up appearances. As a result I value experiences far more than things. No one, after all can take those away from you.

Expand full comment

My grandfather passed and as the primary entrepreneur in his lineage, I was looking forward to having some of his office pieces. In particular, there was a cash register from his days as an executive at NCR.

My aunt, his daughter, determined it was her duty to disseminate as she saw fit, and completely disregarded my requests as if they didn't exist. I didn't even get a reply.

She occasionally sends me knick knacks as a pittance, pretending she's doing it for me. Really, she's just doing it for herself.

It taught me to close that chapter. It was better than harboring hate.

Expand full comment

Your posts often offer great thought and writing prompts! There are no "Things" in or from my ancestral families, maternal nor paternal. They never had the money, nor the time, for keeping memories. I need to think on this a bit more, though, because the two younger generations related to me have evolved from some different lines of ancestry and remembrance.

Expand full comment

Love your writing, Elissa, but I've been working my whole life to let go of my past. So, things that I can touch to remember simply send chills down my spine...I toss them.

Expand full comment
Mar 27Liked by Elissa Altman

Eloquent and moving.

Expand full comment
Mar 27Liked by Elissa Altman

Devastation can be a slow burn. Losing my mom,and then our house…and then ,the final straw was losing her old Honda last year.I had never owned a car,which allotted me a lot of freedom. It just up and died on the road a few months ago.

Expand full comment

Your writing always touches me. Thank you for putting into words the things that are so hard to put into words. My grandmother gave me a painting and it is dear to me. I’m moving abroad and was worrying over how to take this painting with me when my artist friend said, “oh that’s easy. Take it out of the frame, roll it up and bring it on the plane with you. You can easily have it reframed.” My parents doled out my grandparents things, but this was the one that I asked her for and I was so touched that she willed it to me. Anyway, thank you for the space to reflect.

Expand full comment