I am enthralled by the show American Pickers. The idea of finding and restoring a precious relic while learning about its history and meaning is fascinating to me. I am even more so intrigued with antiques and learning about other families’ precious heirlooms after visiting a couple of times one my best friends in Iowa. Her grandmother was the curator for their small farm town’s museum in the heart of Main Street. There were rooms filled with donated and passed down heirlooms. Porcelain dolls highlighting technology and fashion trends, along with strollers and their accessories, filled a large portion of the old town building. There were tin signs, purses, sewing machine, furniture, jewelry, and other various antiques all crafted decades, if not a century, older than I. Most of these invaluable heirlooms were hand made or produced during the beginning of mass production.
Each of those pieces meant something to someone in the past; each had a unique story.
It was truly a treat for me, as none of my family homes had anything like this. And, during my first trip to Iowa, my friend’s parents gave me a unique gift – a miniature vintage John Deere made out of cast iron, complete with a twisted axle and faded yellow lettering, most probably from hours of play from a young farm boy. It is the “oldest” piece I own, and in time, I will pass it along to my son.
Both sides of my family immigrated to the United States between the very late 60s and early 70s. Their very humble beginnings consisted of essentially the clothes on their back, without knowing the language, much less the customs, and without some of their immediate family. Pictures are extremely scarce and a precious commodity that were sneaked out by other immigrants after them. However, there is one precious heirloom we have from my father’s side of the family in which I was only aware of the story until after my grandmother’s passing last year.
When my grandparents, just a few years older than I, escaped with their two children, my grandmother entrusted the nuns at the Catholic Church across the street from their flat with their most precious belongings. It included my grandmother’s engagement ring, a few pictures of the children, along with their engagement and wedding snapshots and some hand made baby clothes by my extremely talented and patient grandmother. Years after they made it into the States, they were able to find the nuns they entrusted with their precious sentimental belongings in Central America.
Untouched, in the same envelope, were all those precious belongings from their native home.
Among them, was the only item my immediate family has in their possession – my father’s baptismal gown. It was handmade by my grandmother’s delicate and precise hands in the early 50s. As was passed down from one generation to another, she hand made her family’s clothes, including creating her own lace and embroidery. It is a dying art in today’s world, and she created it with such perfection that no fabricator nor finest store could replicate today. My mother has carefully cared for it all of these years, wrapped in tissue paper and still as white as the day it was made. It is the gown in which he, all my sisters, and both of our children have worn for our baptisms. Each of our initials and baptismal dates have been stitched on the bottom. This is the most precious heirloom I could possibly imagine to pass on to our children, their future cousins, and their generation beyond. It is not only a physical remnant of our family’s history, but a reminder of faith, trust, courage, determination and hard work.