Sunday, February 4, 2018

Fabricated Heirlooms and the Touchstone That Wasn't

My mom fabricated a family heirloom. It's not her fault. She knew the antique spool cabinet was familiar, important to her, a tether to life long ago. It was the last item she held onto. The one she insisted move with her wherever she went.

I have hauled that beast more times than I care to admit.

It's bulky and awkward and doesn't really serve any practical purpose; especially when you are moving to ever smaller living quarters. When pressed for the reason why it was so important all she could remember was that it came from the family, long ago, and it must stay in the family.

My mom has vascular dementia. Not much of her life is familiar or remembered to her now. But that spool cabinet? That was a fighting point! It held some strong, perhaps happy, family memory now all but gone.

Last weekend as we were moving her (yet again) to a new facility much closer to where I live (Yay! No more hour long commute - one way!) and we were loading the spool cabinet into the UHaul one more time, with no intention of putting it in her new digs - too big - too impractical, we happened to lift the lid to peek inside.

Guess what we found??

A tag from an antique store.

This was NOT a family heirloom! Just a random antique picked up sometime in the 1970's (I have a vague recollection of it's arrival) Had that tag not been discovered the story would have continued. Family Heirloom. Passed down from previous generations. Exact origins unknown. I would have worked it into my home, told the story to my grandchildren, and perpetuated the myth.

Why was it such a touchstone?

Here's a theory. It's a Merrick's Thread spool cabinet. c. 1900. Mom's favorite grandmother, Bessie (Twining) Potwin, had a brother named Merrick and their father, Jesse Twining, ran a drugstore/dry goods store in Corning, IA in the late 1800's. For all I know he was named Merrick because of that thread!! Anyway, somewhere in the fading mind of a woman who is loosing most of her history, this sticks out as meaningful.

The facts don't line up - but she connected the dots the best that she is now able.

Faces fade, memories lost, things no longer hold meaning, but this was an anchor, a tether, a touchstone; fabricated as it may be.

And we will never know why.

But now I have a new story, the true story, and maybe I will work that darned Spool Cabinet into my home after all.


I wonder how many of us have "family heirlooms" that we cherish and hold dear, that are merely fabrications of a sweet grand aunt or beloved grandmother's faded mind?

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