Heirloom

First in a series of short essays based on photographs.


This is my Great Uncle Dave's camping chair. He carried it to Dale Hollow Lake for almost fifty years, from when he first visited there in the late 1940s until shortly before his death in 1996. These types of chairs are still common at some funeral homes in the South but when I was growing up the elders in my family always took the lightweight and sturdy folding seats on camping trips, too. It is still solid as a pine knot and surprisingly comfortable. It folds up smoothly and hooks right across my shoulder for easy carrying. My Great Aunt Mildred gave this chair to me a few years after Uncle Dave passed away.  She's gone now, too, like all of the real elders in my family.  

My family only recently rose to solid middle class so we do not inherit expensive antique sideboards or wedding China patterns and silver. Our heirlooms are the smaller things: the dripolator (a stovetop coffee pot) my aunt used every day of her life, the churn that belonged to my great-grandmother, a pocketknife that my uncle used to whittle or cut twine or whatever else needed done.  The things handed down in our families don't hold a lot of monetary value but contain plenty of pining. They won't fetch anything at auction but they sure conjure many memories. They're the stuff of family history.  

I use this chair to sit by the creek and read now, every day when I have my tea around three or four in the afternoon, before I get back to work in the yard or on my writing or grading papers.  I think of Uncle Dave every time I unfold it. The way he threw his head back to laugh. The stories he was always telling.  I think of all of them:  Aunt Sis, Uncle Sam, Uncle Silas, Uncle Bobby, Aunt Dot, Mamaw and Papaw Shepherd, Granny Mae, Aunt Jean, Uncle Ray, Uncle Red.  Gone, gone. With them was taken thousands of tales. I managed to snatch some of my history from them in fits and starts, listening when they told their stories, asking questions, always pumping them for more.  

In a couple weeks I'll be traveling back to Dale Hollow Lake, where my family has been going ever since Uncle Dave found those pristine waters and encouraged us all to go camping there every year.  Just like I have done ever since Aunt Mildred gave it to me, I'll be taking his chair with me once again.

Comments

gbundy said…
Love this essay! Those are the kinds of heirlooms that are important in our family too.
Mamie Pound said…
Silas, it's always a joy to recognize in your writing, the things that are just below the surface in all of us. And in this essay, in particular, the beloved things that hold so many stories.
Kathy-O said…
Lovely thoughts - I bet you can see him in your mind when unfolding this chair. I remember similar ones from my childhood in the southern tip of Illinois.
Jacquie Kolbe said…
I enjoy your essays and can relate to them.
Anonymous said…
Wearing my Grandma’s worn aprons bring me comfort.
Nikki Hardin said…
I felt known when I read this. So similar to my own family's story even though I grew up in a different part of Kentucky. I wish I'd taken more time to record family stories because that's the true inheritance and my own kids are hungry for them, especially as their own children grow up.
Unknown said…
The words flow with so much gracefulness. I truly enjoyed this story. Heirlooms of the past can sometimes become our future. Wishing you continue success with all your writings. So proud of you.
Frankie Stallard said…
I love this too much to measure. I was raised in a little holler called Little Leatherwood, and yes there was a Big Leatherwood, but the gossip in Little Leatherwood was juicier.

Your stories resonate with the marrow in my bones and I appreciate you.


KatieS said…
This struck me to my core. My family came from coal miners and farmers, so we're much the same. My grandmother's green Fire King coffee cup, my great grandmother's candy making bowl. No monetary value, but they mean the world.
dubuas said…
This brought so many memories of my own dear ones back to me. Thank you, Silas, for sharing your gift.
Unknown said…
Thank you, Mr House. You write so beautifully. I can see you at that fishing hole in Uncle Dave's chair. I have several unassuming heirlooms from my family whose care is intrusted to me. For that I am grateful. Thank you again.
Anonymouz said…
I too have an aunt sis. You are the only other person I have met with this. I assume her name wasn't sis, but this was short for sister and it was passed to you from your parent to you ?

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