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The Ancestral Home: Museum or Shrine?

I love vampire novels for a variety of reasons, some of which are probably deserving of their own blog post. My current obsession are the Southern Vampire Mysteries by Charlaine Harris. The heroine, Sookie Stackhouse is a lovable, down-to-earth character whose more virtuous personality traits keep her both in and out of trouble.

Within the pages of several of the books, the house that Sookie inherited from her grandmother is described in detail. It’s an old farmhouse – in continuous possession of the Stackhouses for over 160 years. It was built by one of her ancestors (a great-great-great-great grandfather?) and added to over the decades by subsequent family members. In one paragraph, Sookie describes her bedroom as she gets ready to retire for the evening. As she climbs into her grandmother’s former bed, she discusses how her linens were embroidered by a great-aunt, her quilt sewn and an afgan knitted by other female forebears. She says very poignantly that though she lives alone, she goes to bed each night surrounded by her ancestors.

Part of me longs for that kind of connection to my family. I have a few heirlooms that have been bestowed upon me by grandmothers, aunts and my parents, but I could hardly say that I’m surrounded by things once used and loved by my ancestors. The ability to continue to maintain and use items that have been in the family for generations would be in many ways, the ultimate way to reduce your carbon footprint.

The other part of me finds that kind of connection to the past to be stifling and oppressive. I would feel obligated to preserve these everyday objects and turn my home into a museum instead of a comfortable sanctuary for myself. The few precious things I do have are carefully packed away and not used for fear that they may be broken or compromised in some way.

How do you maintain your connection to your ancestors? Do you still use your great-grandmother’s potato ricer? A shawl crocheted by an aunt? Your mother’s pyrex dishes with the blue flowers? Your great-grandfather’s tools? Your grandfather’s pocket watch? or has everything in your home been purchased new (or new-to-you)?

1 comment… add one
  • Rufus Vasquez December 9, 2013, 10:23 AM

    In my family story, I know who the good guys are, and the bad guys. I know who to love and who to hate, who to root for and who were the oppressors. And I’m not descended from really “bad guys,” at least not Indian Killer type bad guys. I’ve got a few other colorful people, some slave owners, a couple bigamists, a wife-murderer and a moonshiner…but not people who systematically, unemotionally, slaughtered entire tribes of people. And in those tribes of people were Justin’s ancestors too. So now, what does Justin do with this? Who does he love and who does he hate? How does he come to terms with this, that he carries the genes and ancestry of both? Do they fight within him from time to time? Who is Justin?

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