Family Heirlooms

I have a ton of discussion starters that I use when I teach small groups. Loads of them. In fact, I have a little box stuffed with them that fits in the glove compartment of my car. Never know when you might need ’em.

Anyway, I was thinking about one of those little slips of paper when I glanced at my dresser today. I saw my father’s class ring. The question popped into my brain from one of those small groups, “What family heirlooms do you have & why are they important to you?” So, I thought I’d answer with a few that I have kept up with.

First of all, there’s a .12-guage shotgun in my closet. This is funny to me because there are several sports I never really “got”: Hunting, fishing, and golf. Now don’t get me wrong, I can hit a golf ball pretty well, and I guess if I had an extra $3,000 a year and an extra 120 hours per year and some friends, I might enjoy that one. But, really, it seems like a huge time-waste and money-waste and it’s likely the closest I’ll ever get to golf is watching my Caddyshack DVD repeatedly. (“Cemetaries and golf courses are the biggest wastes of prime real-estate.” -Al Czervik)

But, back to the shotgun. Turns out that my father and grandfather were big into the hunting/fishing thing…but my dad fresh-water fished largely because he could get away in a boat with his brothers and drink beer. His passion was sport fishing for marlin & other saltwater trophies. But he’d take a lot of Saturdays and head off to hunt deer or quail–whatever was in season–with my grandfather. Well, my grandfather had this shotgun that others seemed to be impressed with, and upon his passing, he left it to my father. My dad used it for a few years and upon his passing, I was the owner of the gun. I’ve shot it 6 times since I’ve owned it. The reason I know this is I shot skeet one afternoon at a youth ministry fundraiser. That was over 15 years ago. I keep it because of the sentimentality, and I let avid hunters use it every year to keep it in firing shape (it wows them…apparently this is a somewhat valuable weapon) and they clean it for me when they bring it back.

I also have my grandfather’s shoe-shine kit. This is funny to me for two reasons: First of all, it came from Sears and my grandfather was one of those pragmatic guys…the kind of guy who would say things like, “Sure, I paid a little more for it at Sears, but with Sears you know you get quality and it’ll last forever.” Apparently, he was correct because I still have it and it works great. Which leads me to the second reason it’s funny: I don’t wear the kind of shoes that need to be shined. But if I do, I have a great shoe-shine kit that has been used about 4 times since 1979 that should do the trick. This may have added to the longevity of the machine.

I have my father’s class ring I mentioned earlier. Now, some universities make a bigger deal out of class rings than others, and Auburn University may have changed over the years, but if you grow up in the state of Alabama and attend the university your parents did…the class ring is kind of a big deal. My mom made a big deal about giving me my dad’s ring at the end of my junior year at Auburn when it was apparent that I’d actually graduate (I didn’t show much early on that would give her that confidence, but I figured it out and by 1986 it was evident I’d finish in 3 years, she was kind of proud of that). She gave it to me, it fit, and I wore it until last year…when I made a deal with Kid1 that I’d replace it with a ring that signified I’d always communicate with her. But I like having a ring that has both my name and my dad’s name in it, and I replaced the stone (that Balfour guarantee is SERIOUS, man) and I like having it.

I also wear the wedding band that was my grandfather’s and dad’s as well. Long story short: My dad lost his band not too long after my grandfather died. I’ve heard three stories of how he did it: One was that he jumped in the river to water ski and it came off. Another was that he was playing in the ocean with us and he lost it. The final one is that he left it in the hotel room before deep-sea fishing and they never got it back. Either way, he wore my grandfather’s ring until he died, and my mom made another big deal out of that one right before my wedding…something like 50 years of unbroken marriage behind it and I’d add to that number. It’s a plain gold band, but really meaningful to me.

I have a Coke bottle that I took on our last walk through of my paternal grandparent’s house. Everybody was getting a few momentos before the final move-out, which was pretty enjoyable with everybody getting something that meant something to them and sharing the memories of why they wanted it. Well, I wasn’t as close to my dad’s parents, but every time I went there to visit–especially when I was old enough to drive I went more often–my grandmother would tell me to go get a couple of 8 oz. Coke bottles off the stoop, open ’em up and let’s go on the porch and sit in the rocking chairs and talk. If it was too hot we stayed in the living room. But that’s why I kept one of the 8 oz. Coca Colas. She told me lots of stories about my dad and uncles and such while we were there. And fishing stories as well. She loved to fish, but never went with my dad or his older brother because they drank beer rather than fished and she was serious about fishing, so she went with my dad’s younger brother, who didn’t drink much, if any, beer.

My daughters were given a car and a string of pearls by my mother last summer, which I think I should mention even though they aren’t mine because they symbolize some pretty cool things about my mom. First, she loved the element of surprise and was very good at thinking through the realities of those getting the gifts. She had a car that she kept in good condition for two years even though she couldn’t drive once she got sick for the express reason of giving her granddaughter a car of her own (knowing that Kid1’s dad couldn’t afford one) once she turned 16. My mom really enjoyed giving cars to her children and grandchildren when they turned 16…I think it made her feel like a big shot. And she gave Kid2 her pearls. If you’re a woman in the Deep South you know that a string of pearls is very important and she’d been given this strand one bead at a time by my dad. The car gets used every day. The pearls haven’t yet…but I think the time for those is somewhat down the road.

But those are the heirlooms that hang around here from my side of the family…

…what do you have that’s meaningful?