Growing up, I was blessed with the multi generational upbringing of five generations alive at one time. Sundays were one day a week where we could count on all being together. We attended the same church, and I remember sitting in that balcony pew with my brother & parents, my mom’s parents, my grandma’s dad, and my great-grandpa’s mom. Until I was almost ten years old, I got to worship alongside even my Great-Great-Grandma, Martha. I don’t remember a lot about her. But I do remember the yellow swingback chair she sat in at Grandma’s house. I remember her thick ankles, and how tan pantyhose would slide into wrinkly piles just above her solid black shoes. I remember the shape of her jawline and the stern corrections she would offer when we young whippersnappers did something out of order. When you’re born in 1887, you see a lot of history unfold. Great-Great-Grandma really had seen and experienced a LOT. I didn’t really have a grasp of that until just recently, I think. It makes me wide-eyed with awe.
My mother had the blessing of inheriting a lot of various treasures from these people, these familial generations who lived together in the winter of life. My mom was the only daughter of an only daughter, who was the only child of an only child. So as far as wills and inheriting all the things, perhaps you can just imagine the treasures my mother has been given. Also of note: these people lived through things like two World Wars, the Great Depression, and a whole bunch of other history we can only begin to imagine. Gathering items of potential future use and keeping things not just out of necessity but out of a worldview of knowing loss & need could be just around the next sunrise ~ this was the norm. Not to mention the longing, the genuine need in the soul, to have things that were simply lovely in the midst of an uncertain and dusky world.
Great Grandpa and Great Great Grandma each had their own rooms & bathrooms in the house where my grandparents lived during the majority of my childhood. My grandparents had their own storage in addition to the storage of these previous generations. Their triple garage barely ever fit a vehicle because it was a treasure trove of antiquities. And junk: yes, plenty of junk as well.
When my parents finally helped go through and clean out that house and garage full of boxes and bins and bottled up memories of lives from almost a dozen decades, they ought to have earned badges bearing the title of Museum Archivist.
I still don’t know what they dug through, boxed up, moved out, gave away, or brought to their own home. I was given a box of square dance clothing, which brings back a cornucopia of memories from my childhood, for my children to enjoy when they play dress up or put on shows with their cousins.
The truth is, there were things boxed up and stored away which had neither seen sunlight nor usage for decades.
There was, in classic fashion, an incessant reminding at Grandma’s house from three cohabiting generations of grandparents that we were not to touch, that we were to be careful, that there were a small number of certain things intended for being used and all others intended for only being gazed upon at best (packed away at worst).
That was my own childhood.
Now my children are the ones with curious imaginations and busy hands, wanting to touch and play and use and experience.
My mother has ten grandchildren of her own now, from one to twelve years old, all living nearby, all loving beautiful things. Of course there are glass-fronted curio cabinets with breakable treasures in them, which the energetic wee ones know are to be gazed at but not opened unattended. But Grandmama is teaching the grandchildren to gently use and tenderly enjoy fragile treasures. Tea parties and Sabbath feasts are prime moments for using antiques and heirlooms. Even the toddlers are given china teacups for sipping and real linens for wiping ketchup from chins.
Grandmama shows by example and embrace that beautiful things are made more beautiful by using them and sharing them. When a treasure gets shattered, fellowship doesn’t have to be shattered with it. We learn to sweep up broken glass and apologize if there is broken trust.
This attitude and approach is where the very idea of a little Wonder Garden came from. Why should my children collect nature’s gifts of seashells, sparkly stones, and textured lichens simply for hoarding? Teaching my children that putting these treasures on display in little coves in the forest is teaching them to use and share their beautiful collections… like their Grandmama.
Generational living. Generational learning. THAT is one of my very favorite treasures of all.