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Family Heirlooms: Placing the Past in the Present

Family Heirlooms: Placing the Past in the Present

By Iris Ruth Pastor

It all begins with this couple: my husband’s parents, Herb and Hotche. This picture was taken shortly after Herb was discharged from the Army during the closing days of World War 2.

Herb had witnessed the horrors of the concentration camps in Europe firsthand – being one of the initial units of troops to enter the death camps. Images of starvation, deprivation and torture were indelibly pressed into his memory. Once back home, he was anxious to re-unite with his bride and return to normalcy.

Herb & Hotche

My father-in-law was practical: they needed to set-up a kitchen in their tiny, newly rented apartment. And they needed a double bed to sleep in and a dresser to store their clothes.

My mother-in-law had her own ideas of what they “needed” to begin their post-war lives. She too readily recognized they had no furniture of their own, as she’d been living with her older sister and brother-in-law during the war. She knew they lacked dishes, silverware, mixing bowls, a kitchen table, pots and pans.

But the war had finally ended and she was tired of rationing, making-do, and scraping by. Rather than being pragmatic, in one fell swoop she used all the money from the proceeds of his Army discharge to buy the breakfront pictured below. Her thought: it was a perfect piece of furniture to hold all the knickknacks she hoped to acquire in the coming years.

Both families were aghast.

“Frivolous and impractical,” her parents muttered. “Wasteful and silly,” her sister-in-law declared. But my mother-in-law was determined and my father-in-law only wanted peace and harmony in his marriage, so Hotche resolutely marched ahead with her purchase.

The dark mahogany breakfront was the first piece of furniture my father- in-law bought my mother-in-law.

Though it wasn’t the last, it always remained the most special. The well crafted breakfront was the centerpiece in every dining room in every house she and Herb lived in together for almost fifty years. And when he passed away from pancreatic cancer in his early 70’s, this piece became even more special to her.

The Saga of the Breakfront

Time marches on. She grows older without him. And as activities of daily living became more challenging, my mother-in-law decides to give up her spacious, sun filled condominium and embrace assisted living.

Her living space will soon be drastically reduced. She ponders what to do with her beloved breakfront. She offers it to each one of her children. One has no space. Two live too far away to make transport feasible.

I jump at the opportunity to have this cherished piece of furniture in my husband’s and my home. Its history tantalizes: representing the dreams of a young soldier and his bride starting anew after the deprivations and ravages of war. I yearn for it to be in our home and my mother-in-law graciously agrees.

Before arranging for cross country delivery, I ponder where to place the breakfront.

Our ceilings are very high and the breakfront by today’s standards is relatively small. Our dining room is fully furnished and functional as is.

For days I search for a creative and useful way to showcase the breakfront. And one day- while brushing my teeth – an idea jumps out. My solution is perfect size wise, design wise and utilization wise.

There is only one drawback: location.

The Kids Get Involved

The perfect spot is in our spacious master bath. When one of my sons hears where I am planning to place the breakfront, his reaction is apoplectic. His exact words are: Are you crazy? The rest of them chime in too with similar expressions of disbelief.

I don’t answer. It is mine and my husband’s purview – to do with it what we wish.

So from dining room to bathroom, here the mahogany breakfront sets. I look at it daily, using it for a myriad of storage needs. Every day it reminds me of the beautiful relationship my mother-in-law and father-in-law enjoyed for close to five decades.

And every day it reminds me of the pleasure we get from keeping this cherished heirloom close by – even if where I chose to place it is unconventional and unusual.

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Iris Ruth Pastor is an aging baby boomer, wife, mother and grandma. She is the author of the book The Secret Life of a Weight-Obsessed Woman - Wisdom to Live the Life You Crave . Along with being a successful author, Iris also writes a column entitled “Incidentally, Iris,”. As well as writing, Iris also spends time delivering motivational speeches on all topics related to mid life and baby boomers. Iris is available to speak on a variety of topics, focusing on self-help, self-improvement and self-empowerment and is currently delivering a talk on The Secret to Living Happily Ever After.