Past And Presents

Treasured objects link the generations of a family, explains Kristen Hains.

For my last birthday, I received a baby rattle. This rattle came delicately wrapped, with a note from my grandma: “This was given to your grandfather when he was born in 1922”. I’ve always thought that our DNA, like an heirloom quilt sewn together with all the most beautiful fabrics, delicately weaves together all of the best pieces of the generations who came before us.

Look closely, and I have my father’s eyes and my greatgrandmother’s long fingers. But from my grandma, it wasn’t a physical attribute that I inherited; it was an appreciation and a passion for things from the past. I’m drawn to these items, like a child to a storyteller. Like my grandma, I have collected items throughout my life that hold sentimental meaning and that tell a story. Tucked away in a floral hatbox is my Snoopy soap dispenser. It sat on the edge of my grandma’s tub, waiting for weekends when my sister and I came to visit. Running my fingers across Snoopy’s nose, now worn from all those early days in the bathtub, I remember the smell of those bubbles. I remember splashing in the tub with my sister, and both of us squealing, “I don’t want soap in my eyes!” as my grandma gently washed our hair.

Between the pages of an old photo album is a Christmas card from my great-grandfather, a crisp $5 bill still peeking out from it. Back then, I could have spent it in 100 different ways, but none of those things mattered as much as just keeping it and knowing it was always there. A unique gift from him for me to hold on to, even after he was gone.

A tattered bingo card peeks out from the top of yet another box of mementoes. I was the youngest person at bingo that day. Somewhat begrudgingly, I joined my grandma and her two sisters at the smoke-filled bingo hall. I was fascinated by the science of how they picked out their cards and methodically laid them out, and how their eyes zipped across them as the caller barked out the numbers.

I never understood their enthusiasm for bingo – well, until I daubed the fifth square on my card and shrieked, “Bingo!” The $40 I won is long gone, but the memories of that day, prompted by the card, linger like the smell of smoke and coffee on my clothes.

I have fond memories of the blanket that my grandfather gave me when I was 13. My parents had divorced and my father was temporarily staying with his parents. I went to live with him that summer. During those three months my grandma taught me to crochet and my grandpa gave me the blanket. I was certainly too old for a ‘blankie’, but there was security in its soft cotton texture and serenity in its baby-blue-and-white pattern. I took it everywhere, slept with it every night and always felt secure sleeping under it. I had it when I went off to university, when I moved into my first apartment and when I moved back home. I cried into it when my grandpa passed away when I was 21. The baby blue had faded to grey and it was thinning to the point where it was no longer a blanket, but rather something to just hold on to.

The day of my grandfather’s funeral, I approached his casket with my blanket in hand and gently tucked it into the side of his coffin. I realised that it was the person, and not the blanket, that had provided security. The blanket was a tangible reminder of the intangible love and care that my grandparents gave me. I gave it to him because I wanted a part of me to go with him.

Suddenly, there I sat 16 years later, holding his baby rattle in my hand. I imagined his infant hand grasping and shaking it. I imagined his mother lovingly putting it away and eventually giving it to my grandma. I wondered about the day when I would pass it on to my own son; this rattle that would connect him to a person whom he has never met.

Our DNA doesn’t lie. Looking at my son, you’ll see that he has my eyes and his father’s nose. Delve more deeply and you’ll learn that he shares his great-grandmother’s passion for precious keepsakes. Some day, this rattle will join his other treasures; things like his ‘wolfie’, a grey and tattered stuffed animal, and his ‘cot’, the nickname he gave his special blanket that he used to take to preschool for nap-time. As I pass the rattle onto my son, I’ll pause and wonder when it was that I ceased to be the child and instead became the storyteller.