Legacy in Living Spaces: The Beauty of Family Heirlooms

By Brenna Kehew Sculley

by Celia Cooksey

When my beloved Nana passed away, my sisters and I mourned the loss of our iconic grandmother. An executive level secretary at PanAm, she traveled the world before she married and enjoyed a life full of love, friendship, and fun.

My Nana had exquisite taste, and her home and later apartment was filled with well cared for items of beauty – crystal sifters, framed photos of Ireland, lamps, tables, and chairs.

As my husband and I drove the pickup truck five hours through New York traffic, we arrived to memories. My Nana was judicious in the items she kept, and we were lucky to not be too overwhelmed, but even still… There is such a comingling of happiness and pain in going through the special items of a recently deceased loved one.

We were there to get what my sisters couldn’t fit in their SUVs in our bigger car. The first item was a 6-foot-long marble slab low coffee table. A beautiful piece of mid-century design and a piece the just instantly evoked my Nana. My sister was ready to make space for it in her home, and we were all excited to keep it in the family. Of course… we dropped it about 10 minutes into loading, and it broke into several pieces, narrowly missed breaking off one of my toes. I cried for an hour because of the failure.

Cleaning out the spaces of those recently departed is notoriously a difficult task. Organizing large quantity of items, respecting the appreciation for the items and how they remind you of your loved one, but also being realistic about what you can fit in your home. Downsizing can truly be a gift to those you love as you anticipate how they may need to manage your estate. Even though that’s terribly morbid to think about, it is true!

Back at my Nana’s apartment, I regained my composure, and we packed up the ornate love seat, the pair of Chinese-style lacquered end tables, the fur, the bar cart, and endless boxes of pictures – my sisters and I each taking something that sings our Nana’s memory at first glance. Now we all move around our couch and chairs here and there, making space for these precious items.

As I look across the room, my eye settles on the green and gold loveseat. My great-grandmother and father picked it out at an estate sale in the 1930s and kept it in their apartment in the High Bridge neighborhood of the Bronx. My Nana always said her mother had her and any dates sit in the love seat close together to test how they looked as a couple. It was a fixture in her homes ever since, and now as my daughter cozies up to a book, I can’t help but marvel at the history of my ancestors who sat in that chair.

I can’t wait to use the Thanksgiving platter and turkey plates that give me instant nostalgia and are made for a family gathering to remember. I’m truly grateful I was able to make the effort to bring home these items, cared for throughout her 95 years, and make space for them in my own home. While material items aren’t everything, having an appreciation for the things of the past can fill your home with meaning.

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