We’re always told that “things” aren’t as important as people and our relationships, and of course that’s true, but sometimes the things in our life have wonderful stories.
I have a green Fire-King mixing bowl that is more than 70 years old; my parents received it as a wedding present when they married on May 25, 1941, and it was an important item in my mother’s kitchen all of her life. I’m sure she thought fondly of the friend who gave her the gift, but I suspect my very practical mother valued the bowl for one of the reasons that makes it important to me today—because it’s a really useful bowl! The handle makes it easy to hold, there’s a pour spout, and it’s just the right size for making a batch of muffins, pancakes, or coleslaw. My most vivid memory of this bowl involves potato salad and family reunions, and how mom would write her name on a piece of tape on the bottom of the bowl so that it didn’t get taken home by anyone else. I imagine it wasn’t the only green bowl on the table at those reunions.
Fire King products were sold in hardware and “dime” stores in the late 1930s and 1940s and were sometimes included as giveaways with other purchases. The dishes were popular because they were durable and inexpensive. They were sold through the 1970s. As collectibles, they are still popular today and frequently seen in antique stores.
My mother didn’t have a lot of “valuable” items to pass on: no expensive jewelry, furs, antiques, or fine collectibles. But this small green mixing bowl illustrates a point about the importance of remembering the story behind the everyday things in our lives. This bowl was a big part of her life—something she held and used almost every day. To me, that makes it much more valuable than any of those other things could possibly be. One day, I’ll probably pass this bowl on to one of my nieces, but not without making sure that whoever receives it knows its history and importance.
Sometimes items are important because they were regularly used and loved by someone important to us—as with my mom’s bowl—and sometimes they are important because of the story about how the owner came to acquire them. But in any case, when the person who knows the story is no longer around, these items are in danger of being discarded, of going to garage sales or the trash, and how sad that would be!
Many of my APH colleagues help clients or their own families find and save the stories behind household items like this, and over the coming weeks, this blog will highlight the stories of some of those: hand-knitted outfits, a bud vase, pressed flowers saved from a wedding bouquet, needlepoint Christmas stockings, a program saved from a WWI-era concert, a Singer treadle sewing machine, and even 50-year-old houseplants. What the item is or what it cost is not as important as the story and the meaning behind it.
What family/household items do you have that are important? Do you know the stories behind the items? How are you saving those stories?
About today’s contributor: D. Fran Morley is a freelance writer and editor in Fairhope, Alabama, who teaches classes in personal history writing and works with individuals and organizations to save their stories. She is Content Editor for the Association of Personal Historians.