Two sisters were faced with who should have a set of dishes that had passed from their grandmother to their mother, and now to them. As they discussed who would get the dishes, they realized that what they both wanted was for their mother and grandmother to “be present” at future family gatherings, and so they developed a plan that worked for them: the dishes don’t really “live” anywhere. At the end of each family event, the dishes are packed into storage bags and taken by whoever is holding the next family event. Whenever the family gets together, the dishes bring up memories and stories, giving their mother and grandmother a presence at the table. I love their solution, because it is about relationships, not ownership. The legacy being passed down is not dishes. It’s loving memories shared by family, and tangible evidence of the good relationship between the sisters. That’s a wonderful legacy.
Two friends have a similar tradition. When their mother died, they couldn’t decide who would get two special items. One was a sterling silver pitcher their mother purchased at an auction when the girls were young. The pitcher had an ornate letter “F” engraved on it, which did not bother their mother. She must have been strangely omniscient, because years later, both girls went on to marry men whose last names began with “F.” Some things are too strange to ponder.
The other item is a beautiful ring their mother purchased during a shopping trip to New York City.
When their mother died, they laid the jewelry out on a table and took turns choosing pieces. Both sisters wanted the pitcher and the ring, and neither could choose one over the other, so they developed a plan to share them, adding their own traditions. The ring is always worn on New Year’s Eve, and the pitcher is always returned with fresh flowers in it. The exchange occurs every year on New Year’s eve. The ring is a wearable memory, an intimate, personal way of staying connected with someone who has died. The pitcher is a physical presence displayed proudly in both homes. Like the dishes, the legacy of the ring and pitcher is about relationships, not ownership.
Between them, my two friends have 5 children — four girls and a boy. They assume they will need to decide on who keeps the ring and who the pitcher, since when they die, getting agreement among five cousins will be more complex than it was between two sisters. I like to think that their children will continue the tradition, that whoever gets the ring, it will be shared among that sister’s children, and that the pitcher shared in the same way.
My brother and I share a needlepoint chair that belonged to my mother. For me, the chair is less about memories, and more about the relationship I have with my brother and sister-in-law. Of all the things my mother left me, I think my relationship with my brother is the legacy she would be most proud of. It is that relationship that “keeps my mom at the table.”
Do you have items you share with siblings? If so, I would love to hear your stories.