Monday, February 9, 2009


The title of this post may be a little deceiving as it might lead you to think along the lines of precious jewelry or valuable antiques. The heirlooms I'm thinking of are much humbler in origin. They can, in fact, be anything.

In today's modern world with its disposable mentality, everything is use-and-throw. Any product lasting three years is usually outdated. Every CNY, homes go through spring cleaning and many items get discarded.

I am the same. This is made worse by the fact that as a child and into my adulthood, I moved so many times that the term "moving house" strikes horror in me. Everytime we moved, things got tossed. A few years ago, I suddenly realised that there was practically nothing left of my past save for a couple of photo albums.

I decided that I would keep a few items to pass on to my children, and hopefully, their children. These items have no intrinsic value in themselves but in terms of sentimental value, they're priceless. They cannot be bought and they represent a part of this family that my children belong to but do not know because they were born in a different age.

I managed to find just three items. The oldest is this Ladybird book that belonged to my mother when she was in p2 at Bedok Girls' School (I know this because there's a school chop in the book). It's called "Smoke and Fluff" and it's about two naughty kittens. The entire story is told in rhyme. This is the only thing I have that belonged to my mum and she has long passed on, so I'm very glad I have it. Unfortunately, the pages are riddled with pen marks, courtesy of my sister (she was monstrously destructive as a child!)

The next item is a teddy bear I had when I was a baby, so it's as old as I am (and I'm not revealing how old that is!) I marvel at how this bear never managed to get thrown out - it suffered tremendously as you can probably see from the pic. It's missing an eye (again thanks to my sister) and its fur is stiff and scruffy. I called him Benny and when my sister and I played with him, we always made him assume a grouchy, doleful persona because his mouth turned down at the sides. He's now just stuffed in the toy chest but I like imagining that I cuddled him when I was a wee tot. Isn't he sweet?

The last item is a patchwork blanket done by my paternal grandmother. She used to sew her own clothes and would save the scraps to make these blankets for her many grandchildren. Typical, we never appreciated them and treated them carelessly when she was alive because she would make so many. Years after she'd passed on, I realised that I only had this one left and made a conscious note to take care of it.

It's still the most comfortable blanket I've ever used and today, it's the "sick blanket", ie when any child or adult in the family falls ill and has to sleep without air-conditioning, he or she gets this blanket as it's not as warm as the quilts we use every night. It's soft and comforting - for me especially, it triggers warm and happy memories.

So those are my three heirlooms. Very simple, everyday items but precious in their own ways. If you haven't got heirlooms that tell a story of your past, I suggest you start looking now. Years from now, I'm sure your kids (and you) will appreciate them.


Alcovelet said...

So sweet and sentimental, Mon. The quilt blanket is so lovely and worn, and so sweetly pink! This one is definitely for keeps!
I have such a terrible habit of shoveling things out as fast I get them in, oh no. All I have are some old fashioned jewelry from my great grandparent's time. Did you know they even cut diamonds differently back then?

monlim said...

Hey, from your great-grandparents, that's practically ancient! And got real diamonds some more? Definitely qualifies as an heirloom. Must keep, must keep!

Lilian said...

Wah Adeline, goodness, your great-grandparents had diamonds?! Talk about old money! Were they related to the Last Emperor? (hope I'm getting my dates right, I dunno Chinese history).

I lived in the same house I moved to when I was 6, unfortunately my mum has a habit of throwing out my stuff too. I was a hoarder and she'd always nag that "You're just like your grandmother.", referring of course to my paternal grandma lah.

I had some beautiful ladybird books, there was a particular series that had gorgeous illustrations. My favourite one was the one with Cinderella, all her 3 dresses were stunningly drawn. I saw on ebay a couple of years ago and those books were going for hundreds of pounds! Dammit!

And my dad collected Readers Digest from the early 1960s, before I was born, and we had a cupboard full of them. One day I returned to find them all thrown away, arrrggghhhh!!! That's my mum lah.

Heirloom, hmm, we have a sewing machine from my paternal grandma. I have a jade pendant from the maternal grandma I never met.

For my kids, I really have nothing much of significance from my childhood. Must rummage the house next time I return to Malacca.

Oh, yes, Benny is adorable. I love teddy bears that look sad.

monlim said...

Lilian: Is the sewing machine Singer? Every household used to have one of those I think! My grandmas were always sewing something. The black polished wood and the ornate pedal - good times!

monlim said...

PS I think I had that Cinderella book too! It was different because she was transformed three times and each gown was more beautiful than the rest. If only we'd known the value it could fetch today! (But actually if I still had it, I'm sure I wouldn't be able to part with it :P)

Alcovelet said...

My great grandfather was some major businessman - same circle as the Liens apparently, but uh, we lost it. Too bad, wahhh!!

tjmummy said...

Those are lovely precious heirloom items! I had discussed this with my hubby too. We were thinking we'd like to have family traditions and heirloom to pass down the generations.
I was inspired by this old lady when I was living in USA. She had a knitted baby girl dress framed and hung on her wall.

I asked her why it was framed. She said her grandma knitted it for her mom. Her mom wore it for her 2nd birthday or something (there was a yellowed picture she showed me), and then when she herself was 2, her mom let her wear that dress too. And she gave her daughter that same dress to wear when she was 2, and now her granddaughter and great granddaughter had also worn the same dress!

She had the pictures of each generation's little girl in the dress arranged and it was so precious. So moving, I almost cried, I think. So meaningful.

I hope to do something like that, but something not gender-specific, cos we have smaller families, so the chances of having a daughter may not be there for each generation! :-)

monlim said...

TJmummy: It's definitely worthwhile finding something to leave for future generations - things like books and soft toys are gender neutral, but look hard in your closets and storeroom, you'll never know what you can uncover!

Lilian said...

Yes yes, it's that Cinderella book. There was a blue dress, a pink dress I think and the last one was a silver dress. They were all gorgeous, but the last one was magnificent. And Cinderella in that book was so beautiful, definitely better than the Disney one. You're right, I wouldn't be able to part with it either. Maybe that's why it's so darn expensive now.

eunice said...

Monica, Benny still looks good for his age and after all he has been through.

I have my mum's recipe book that she has had from 1962. It's a book I cherish as she has made little notes in it and it's something of hers that is more precious than the jewellery she left me after she died.

What I regret not taking care of and not keeping are the beaded round things (dunno what's the real name) at both ends of the bolsters that my Peranakan grandma made. Every bead was handstitched.

Hey, I too have a patchwork blanket. 2 infact. 1 was my mum's and it's getting a bit worn. Hopefully it'll last till Sean is older and he can use it or pass it on.

monlim said...

Eunice: Mum's old recipe book? That's truly priceless cos you can actually use it and Sean will get to taste food that your mum used to make! The Peranakan grandmas are really something with their handicraft. The handmade stuff is always the most precious, isn't it?

Elan said...

I guess when you only have a few items, you would consider them heirlooms because you can take the time to individually admire them and reminisce about them. That's how it should be.
However, I have the opposite problem, I literally have a whole house full to deal with so my stuff is looking a lot like junk and a headache to me!

Like Alcovelet, I have quite a few pieces of jewellery from the great grandparents on both sides which I just keep in a safe but I don't wear any jewellery at all, so they never get to be displayed. I have shown them to my sons a few times but they just go - "okay, now can we go and play?"

My mum passed away 16 years ago, my dad just moved out of their bedroom into another one and has kept everything as it was! Neither of us has the energy, (and to be truthful, the heart) to go and sort out the stuff in there and decide what to junk or to keep - fortunately he lives in a big house and doesn't need the room! I know my mum used to show me her schoolbooks and even compositions so they must still be in there if I can brave the dust....
What I do use are her handwritten recipe cards for butter cookies and cakes and her baking equipment as well as her copy of the original Mrs Lee's cookbook!

After I got married, I also just left all my stuff behind in my room at my Dad's house. My excuse was that I was just moving to a tiny room in my in-laws house and I would go back and sort things out when I actually got my own house.That was 14 years ago and 2 own houses on....Poor Dad!

Somebody tell me how to shift out the gems from the chaff please!

monlim said...

Elan: Wah, a whole treasure trove to pick from! That's a good problem lah, I wish I had that. But I understand, it's something you'll keep putting off until the day your dad says, "that's it, I'm moving to a one-bedroom apartment, everything goes", then you'll suddenly muster the energy to sort the stuff out!

eunice said...

Elan, realise that you are like me. We use our mum's recipes. For me, it brings back memories of how she started as a really, really awful cook to become a really, really good cook! I often tell my husband that he married me cos of my mum's cooking (he loved her food).

Btw, I too have jewellery from grandma (the old Peranakan kind you don't find anymore). My tip to you, USE IT!! I figure, it'll be better than keeping it in the safe/bank for no one to admire. Yes, and I do love a bit of bling :)

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