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Should You Use that Special Dish or Heirloom?

December 13, 2019

Another Way for week of Dec. 13, 2019

If Not Now, When?

Many of you have followed my embrace of retirement this year (officially crossed that bridge at the end of March). If you haven’t entered this wonderful stage, you have parents or grandparents who are there, are perhaps great grandparents who are (dare I be so bold as to imagine someone in her 20s reading this column?).

At any rate, I was getting ready for Thanksgiving and immensely enjoying all the preparations mainly because I had so much more time available to me: deep cleaning, washing and drying all china in the buffet, cooking all day on the big day and being almost giddy about it.

I was thinking about suitable festive dishes to use in putting food on the Thanksgiving table. I have plenty of great dishes, but somehow, I, along with you or your mother or father, grandmother or great grand have absorbed the perhaps old fashioned notion that you shouldn’t use the treasured antiques, dishes, or special household items for fear of breakage.

Of course no one wants to break a treasured dish that was passed down from your grandmother or mother or aunt, but where is the joy in not putting a beautiful piece of pottery or china to it’s intended use?

I have been saving, and using only very rarely, a beautiful handmade bowl that was presented to me on one of my work anniversaries—perhaps my 25th? It was a lovely blue-green serving bowl thrown by Dick Lehman, a well-known potter in Goshen, Indiana. Since I, myself, would never buy such a luxury, I do love the bowl. It makes me feel special and somehow wealthy just to admire or use it.

To have something special and beautiful and never share it with your friends or family is kind of a shame. If I don’t use it, will my daughters feel they should never use it either if it one day gets handed down to them? If not now here in the golden age of retirement when I still have enough energy and stamina to cook for a crowd and enjoy it, when? When will the bowl ever really get used?

So, happily I served a steaming hot bowl of mashed potatoes to those gathered around our table. No one particularly noticed it but they did enjoy and comment on the potatoes (kept hot by my newest cooking trick—make your mashed ‘taters before the last minute and keep them hot and fresh in your crockpot!). I think the thick pottery also helped to make a heat-holding cradle for our home grown potatoes.

Would I dare to use the gorgeous set of mid-century glassware we got from my husband’s dear aunt? What about the four tobacco jars passed down from a thrifty grandfather’s “chewing” habit? Will we bequeath those to our three daughters? Who should get the extra one? There won’t be enough to go around to the grandchildren, and anyway, who will care about their Great Grandpa Hottinger’s tobacco glasses by then?

Passing down knickknacks or beloved heirlooms is one way to try and preserve our life and heritage so that we will be remembered, isn’t it? The old rocking chair that I sit in as I type this on my laptop was my grandfather’s, who lived in the “daughty house” attached to our home (in-law quarters). In my mind’s eye I can see grandpa sitting in that chair in their sitting room that doubled as a bedroom. My Grandpa Miller would get up from his chair and wind his truly antique grandfather clock, passed down to him fro several generations, and we’d relish the sound of the chimes. I didn’t inherit the clock (it goes to the youngest sibling of a family), but I do love grandpa’s old rocking chair, even though it needs repair.

What about the more important things in life, that don’t break or fade away? Do we pass down the values that we cherish to our grandchildren? How do we help build a good foundation for them to thrive? These, of course are more vital and valuable than a lovely piece of pottery or china, or grandpa’s old saw or vise grip.

I’d love to hear your thoughts and stories regarding heirloom items.


Do your children or grandchildren seem to be interested in family keepsakes? Or not so much?

Comment here!


Send comments to or Another Way Media, P.O. Box 363, Singers Glen, VA 22834.

Another Way is a column by Melodie Davis, in syndication since 1987. She is the author of nine books. Another Way columns are posted at a week after newspaper publication.  


  1. One of my houseguests mentioned that old, ornate dishes are beautiful to look at and use, but much of the decoration contains lead, so watch out, she said. I may still use them occasionally.

    One of my grandsons has asked to have the glass pitcher etched with a B. He also wants the blue velvet chair in front of which I keep my devotional books and Bible. There’s no competition with the other grands, so he can have them. Son and daughter, not interested.

  2. It’s a change from having sons and daughters “fighting” over who gets what, to not interested. I wonder if and when the old things will come back into popularity or if the more modern sparse or zen look will continue a couple of decades–or centuries! Thanks for sharing. And thanks for the heads up about potentially harmful decorations on dishes. I will be careful!

  3. Nick shared this:
    “I occupy the house my parents bought in early 1930 from a man who had used it as collateral for a relative’s bail. When the relative skipped town, the house had to be sold.

    My dad died in 1982, my mom in 1997. They left a houseful of heirlooms. Those who experienced the Great Depression seemed to save everything. I’ve given most of their treasures to relatives and friends. And I’ve sold a few. Too many heirlooms seem like clutter.

    They included a hickory rocker, a Singer sewing machine, icons, butter churns, Christmas ornaments, cotton feed sacks, kitchenware, furniture, etc. I still use their old oak table and chairs and a small sturdy bench made of thick, rough-cut lumber. My many siblings and I cracked bushels of hickory nuts on it in the winter. It still has the deep indentation on one corner as proof. Heirlooms are nice but memories are better.”


  4. We are our heirlooms will go after we are gone is something I think about quite often. I don’t think my kids are very interested.

    • It is certainly a different age in terms of valuing those heirlooms. I guess maybe sometimes we become too attached to those things. I hope some of your children will want some of your most special things!

      • It’s a delicate balance. How much is enough and how much is too much?!

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