18 April 2011

Environment: Ancestral Home

I love vampire novels for a variety of reasons, some of which are probably deserving of their own blog post. My current obsession are the Southern Vampire Mysteries by Charlaine Harris. The heroine, Sookie Stackhouse is a lovable, down-to-earth character whose more virtuous personality traits keep her both in and out of trouble.

Within the pages of several of the books, the house that Sookie inherited from her grandmother is described in detail. It's an old farmhouse - in continuous possession of the Stackhouses for over 160 years. It was built by one of her ancestors (a great-great-great-great grandfather?) and added to over the decades by subsequent family members.

In one paragraph, Sookie describes her bedroom as she gets ready to retire for the evening. As she climbs into her grandmother's former bed, she discusses how her linens were embroidered by a great-aunt, her quilt sewn and an afgan knitted by other female forebears. She says very poignantly that though she lives alone, she goes to bed each night surrounded by her ancestors.

Part of me longs for that kind of connection to my family. I have a few heirlooms that have been bestowed upon me by grandmothers, aunts and my parents, but I could hardly say that I'm surrounded by things once used and loved by my ancestors. The ability to continue to maintain and use items that have been in the family for generations would be in many ways, the ultimate way to reduce your carbon footprint.

The other part of me finds that kind of connection to the past to be stifling and oppressive. I would feel obligated to preserve these everyday objects and turn my home into a museum instead of a comfortable sanctuary for myself. The few precious things I do have are carefully packed away and not used for fear that they may be broken or compromised in some way.

How do you maintain your connection to your ancestors? Do you still use your great-grandmother's potato ricer? A shawl crocheted by an aunt? Your mother's pyrex dishes with the blue flowers? Your great-grandfather's tools? Your grandfather's pocket watch? or has everything in your home been purchased new (or new-to-you)?


  1. I'm right there with you. On the one hand, I love old stuff. On the other, I don't want to be the keeper of my relatives' belongings.

    I have a couple of old things, but I tend to not be too attached to most of the material stuff I own. My one rule of thumb, however, is that if I'm not going to use it, I don't keep it. Having something you're saving for a "special occasion" is just silly, IMHO. You never know when you're going to shuffle off this moral coil, so use and enjoy your stuff, or give it to someone who will.

  2. Thanks for your comment!
    Yes, I tend to be a minimalist and I'm only attached to a few of my belongings. I don't believe in saving the "good china" for special occasions, if I don't use it, I sell it or give it away to someone who can and will use it (and I can always use the cash). It's the same reason I don't have holiday decorations - it seems ridiculous to me to store a bunch of crap all year, only to pull it out, put it up and then have to pack it all away again annually.

  3. OMG YES! The most liberating day of my life was when I sent all my Christmas decorations to Goodwill. I've never been a big fan of Christmas anyway, and all that "decorating to keep up with the Joneses" just made it worse. It was such a weight off my shoulders to just admit that it wasn't important to me and I wasn't doing it for myself, and let it go. Now if I want to see decorations I just go downtown and look at their lights.