What’s happened to our family heirlooms? I’m sure when families gathered on Thanksgiving, the conversations drifted toward memories that were special and significant. “Remember that pocket watch Daddy loved so much? Whatever happened to it? Remember how proud Mama was of her collection of baking tins? Does anyone know where they are? And what about Uncle Joe’s doctor bag? You know, that black leather one he carried on house calls for 50 years? Is it at your house?”
I often ask folks, “If you had your granddaddy’s pocket knife with his name and the date he bought it engraved on the handle, how much would you take for it?” I’m betting you wouldn’t part with it. The same would be true for a leather briefcase your granddaddy carried every day, trying to make a living for his family. Where are the handwritten letters, fountain pens, pearl-handled pistols, Civil War swords, old leather saddle bags, handmade quilts and the rifles that used to hang over the fireplace? Where did the family kerosene lamps, cookie jars and whiskey jugs wind up?
I could be wrong, but I’m thinking that cell phones, laptops, iPads® and the like are not going to become family heirlooms. It’s sad, don’t you think, that there are few handwritten letters or accounts of day-to-day life being recorded today. All we have are emails and postings on Facebook and such, which we know will be gone in the blink of an eye and with the click of a mouse. If your computer crashes, your family legacy treasures can be lost forever.
What if your aunt brought you an old shoe box one day and said, “Here’s a bunch of little notepads your grandmother wrote in every day about her daily activities, mostly mundane things she had to do, nothing earth shattering, maybe just her grocery lists, what she cooked for breakfast and supper, notes about sick kids, birthdays and Christmas lists. Do you have any use for them?” They’re just little paper notebooks, nothing fancy, but how much would they mean to you because she had written in them, giving witness to a way of life gone by? I guess I would think of them as little still-frame snippets of her life.
I get a bit nostalgic sometimes. Truth be told, I’m nostalgic more often than sometimes. But by my way of thinking, nostalgia is a good thing. A sense of history and heritage grounds us in our busy lives these days. No matter what the stresses and cares of the day are, the comfortable feel of my grandfather’s knife in my pocket always takes me back to a simpler place in time. It seems to me that the tradition of passing on family heirlooms is suffering in this new high-tech world. Seems a shame to lose all that history. At Col. Littleton, we’re not just in the business of leather goods. If you really think about it, we’re in the family heirloom business.
I’m right proud of the things we make, like our leather pocket journals, because I know they stand a chance of becoming a special family treasure one day. I’m hoping you’ll think about that each time you fill up one of the paper registers and just store them in a drawer. Over a period of time they could be quite a collection, and they’ll be priceless to somebody in your family someday.
Isn’t it special to think that someone who carries your last name and your DNA can also carry your personalized bone-handled pocket knife? Perhaps your American buffalo briefcase will occupy a prominent place in the office of a great-grandson. Imagine your great-granddaughter and her children pouring over your leather-bound No.9 Journal to see what you did in the early days of the 21st century.
I’m wishing more heirlooms had been passed down in my family. Other than my dad’s tools and tool box, my granddaddy’s pocket knife, a guitar that belonged to my mother who passed away 10 days after I was born, my daddy’s 1926 Ford Model-T truck that he personally restored and a few photographs, I don’t have much family history to touch and feel and display. Maybe that’s why I’m in the business of making products that can make memories. When I design leather goods, I want them to collect stories along their journey from one person to another. When I see a design come to life and I’m holding it in my hand, I can’t help but believe that someday it’s going to be aged and weathered and priceless enough not to find its way to an estate or yard sale.
Heirlooms, links to the past, are also links to the future. They are still-life frames of Americana. That’s what the Great American Leather Company is all about.
Do you have a family heirloom that you treasure? We’d love to hear from you. Those treasures, and the people who cherish them, have stories that need to be told.