An Unexpected Gift: A Legacy Handed Down

 

It was in the early 1950s when Sonny and Julia met. Sonny was a lineman for the local electric utility. On their first date, Sonny wore a shirt with French cuffs, and Julia took note of it; she liked a sharp-dressed man. On some gift-giving occasion along the way in their courtship, Julia bought a matching tie bar and cuff links for Sonny. They were gold, each with a couple pieces of thick-gauge gold wire worked into a loose square knot. Simple. Elegant. Classy. After they were married, Julia found out that Sonny had only ever had the one shirt with French cuffs, and as an electrical lineman, was not much of one for dressing up, nor did he have much call for it. Still, he had that jewelry and kept it safe throughout his life.

Sonny and Julia were together for around forty years, I cannot tell the exact dates or length. They had two daughters, the younger of whom eventually became my wife.

My wife is a very lovely lady and strongly emotional. There are many things that it is hard for her to talk about, and one of those things is the loss of her father. I believe it was sometime in the very late 1980s or early 1990s, perhaps just before we started dating. Sonny went into a hospital for some tests, and something went wrong, and he died very quickly and unexpectedly. Especially early in our courting and marriage, the exact dates of her parents’ lives didn’t matter that much.

My wife’s elder sister married a man of whom Julia never really approved. He’s not a bad guy, but never had a stable job or income. Since I’ve known him, he has been a woodworker making musical instruments, a music teacher, and performed in various bands. His wife, my sister-in-law, seems to have been the primary breadwinner for their family, eventually winding up an engineer at a television station. Needless to say, for a woman who was born in the 1920s, as Julia was, this was somewhat scandalous.

When her younger daughter brought a young man to visit, and that young man had a stable job as a systems engineer and wore suits and ties every day, including dress shirts with French cuffs, Julia was a bit happier about her younger daughter’s taste in men. Sometime after we married, we went to visit Julia. She went into the other room and brought out a small box that was about four inches wide, an inch across and half an inch deep. The box top was red and the bottom white. She opened it up to reveal the tie bar and cuff link set, and she told me of its history. She gave me that jewelry set as she had given it to Sonny more than forty years before.

I considered this gift a great honor and have worn the jewelry proudly many times. The little box sits in a place of honor within my jewelry chest.

I’m not an old man, but older than many who have died. A few days ago an actor had a massive stroke and died; he was younger than I. I could name many, many other people who died of heart attacks, strokes, and other diseases more associated with old age who were younger than I am. One of my grandmothers did not make it to my age. Both of grandfathers only made it until they were only five years older than I am now. On the other hand, my other grandmother lived to nearly eighty, my father is still alive at eighty-four, and my mother will be eighty this year. I am not exactly staring mortality in the face, but I can hear Death knocking on doors down the hall from me. Thus I think of my legacy, and what I should do with my possessions if anything happens.

When we married, my wife was nearing forty. She had no interest in having children. Given some inherited health conditions in both families, it is probably best that we did not. My sister-in-law and her husband had two daughters as Sonny and Julia did, no sons. Of those daughters, the elder is working on a Ph.D., so has not married yet, but even if she does, she is much more likely to marry a woman than a man. With modern technologies, it is not impossible that she could have children anyway, but at the moment that branch of the family line does not seem likely to connect to anyone who wears tie bars and cuff links. The younger daughter has some of those inherited health conditions I mentioned. She is unlikely to ever be out on her own, and likewise very unlikely to ever marry and have children. It seems likely that Sonny and Julia’s line will die off with this next generation.

What shall I do with this heirloom jewelry that may not be extremely valuable, but was in this family for well over sixty years? If I die, should it go to one of my wife’s nieces anyway? What happens if my wife dies first and I lose touch with her nieces? (This is a high probability. I am on the autism spectrum and do not maintain relationships well.) Should I go ahead and pass them on immediately if my wife dies? If so, which niece? And will they value them as I do? On the other hand, who would possibly value the set more than the granddaughters of Sonny and Julia? Perhaps it is a concern that will not need to be addressed for thirty years or more, but at the moment they are destined for Sonny and Julia’s elder granddaughter, whether she will ever have any use for them or not. Far better that she have them and carry the legacy forward than that they wind up in a thrift shop somewhere.

They were an unexpected gift, carrying a legacy of more than forty years grown now to over sixty years, nearer seventy. The legacy is a burden to find a way to carry that legacy even further forward.

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  1. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    Arahant: Since I’ve known him, he has been a woodworker making musical instruments, a music teacher, and in various bands.

    Sounds like my uncle, if you mix in chemist and yacht maker (musical instruments when the boat market was soft).

    • #1
  2. EODmom Coolidge
    EODmom
    @EODmom

    Such a gift carries so much love that I would give it to whoever knew and loved Julia best, regardless of where they are on the tree. And – I have a couple of blouses with French cuffs, so it’s not inconceivable that a woman could wear them. I would have the tie bar made to a pin. The links to earrings? The pieces really are lovely. You will know when you are ready to gift them, if before your death. Otherwise put a note in the box to advise whoever is managing things after your death. 

    I have been giving “family things” to younger family members as they marry. We ended up as custodian/storage of “family things” when EODDad’s grandmother died and his mother started living in an assisted situation. Our nieces and nephews mostly don’t remember Papa Henry and Nana Rose, but their parents have enough stories about their house that they all seem to have been happy to be given pieces as they set up their houses. When I gift something that is personal to me I have to work to disengage from what the piece means to me, and free the recipient to have their own life with the “thing.”  I have to accept that they just won’t love or relate to the thing as I did. 

    • #2
  3. MarciN Member
    MarciN
    @MarciN

    These are the things that keep us up all night . . .  :-)

    I’d break up this decision into small bites. The first thing I’d do is what you’ve done here–write it all down and make a hard copy (or several in case the great electromagnetic field attack comes. :-) )  Have some fun with it–think the J. Peterman catalog. But write it down and print it out in a nice way. 

     

    • #3
  4. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    EODmom (View Comment):
    I have been giving “family things” to younger family members as they marry.

    My mother recently gave something that had been her grandmother’s to her grandson (my nephew) and granddaughter-in-law for their daughter. (The daughter is now either three or four, if I remember rightly.) I don’t remember precisely what the dish was, but it’s well over a hundred years old.

    My father gave me the bulk of my grandfather’s jewelry collection, as well as his own cuff links, which he no longer wears. I don’t know if my nephew wears cuff links or much jewelry, but at the moment, he is heir apparent to the collection if I outlive my middle brother. Not that he knows that, but there is no other reasonable path within the family. My father was an only surviving child, and as I have no children, it’s the nephew or one of the two nieces. Most of the jewelry is rather masculine. As you said, some women’s blouses do have French cuffs, but… Beyond the heirloom pieces, I have an additional couple hundred sets of cuff links I have gathered over the years, including two new sets today.

    • #4
  5. EODmom Coolidge
    EODmom
    @EODmom

    Arahant (View Comment)

             Beyond the heirloom pieces, I have an additional couple hundred sets of cuff links I have gathered over the years, including two new sets today.

    Holy Hannah! That’s. A. COLLECTION. When you tire of choosing what to wear, sounds like a fun trip to an estate jeweler to sell on your behalf. My husband has a dozen I suppose – including a really lovely cloisonné set of links and shirt studs from his grandfather.  He wore those when we married and the 3-4 times a year he wore a dinner jacket when we had that kind of social life in Ca. But hundreds!! If you’re serious about looking at estate things now, I suggest you take the lot to said estate jeweler and get a baseline appraisal and set up instructions for your executor for how to handle. Then tuck that away with the collection.  I would enjoy talking to someone who liked my collection as much as I did and liked the stories of where/when you found them. I’ll bet they are beautiful. 

    • #5
  6. PHCheese Inactive
    PHCheese
    @PHCheese

    Does it need to stay in the family, perhaps a good friend or his son?

    • #6
  7. Spin Inactive
    Spin
    @Spin

    Arahant: It was in the early 1950’s when Sonny and Julia met.

    Two young lovers, with nothin’ better to do…

    • #7
  8. Kay of MT Inactive
    Kay of MT
    @KayofMT

    I am in a similar dilemma, as I just turned 81, and am sitting in an apt surrounded by all my worldly possessions, in boxes, unorganized. with absolutely no help by any member of my family.  Many antiques from my mother, two grand grandmothers, and things I have collected for the past 50 or 60 years. I have 2 daughters, 7 grand children, 6 great grandchildren and I intend to leave them nothing. I may give my more precious things to a nephew, especially my doll collection, provided he comes and gets them. I have no money to ship them. Because I now live in poverty because of one of my daughters. The nephew has 3 daughters and a son, with numerous grandchildren. All my precious Judaic books, art, and paraphernalia will be donated to an orthodox synagogue. I’m not sure what to do with my genealogy work. My mother’s work and papers should go to a conservative Christian organization, but have no idea which that would be.

    • #8
  9. Spin Inactive
    Spin
    @Spin

    What if you give them to the granddaughter now?  That way you know you won’t lose touch with her, and you can give her the history adding your bit to it.  Tell her they are for her husband should she ever marry, or for her son should she have one.  And you have the added benefit of creating a bond between you and your niece.  

    Or just give them to me.  

    PS – I knew you had a “jewelry chest”, you girly man.  

    • #9
  10. Spin Inactive
    Spin
    @Spin

    Seriously:  I was at an estate sale this weekend.  All this old couple stuff priced for sale, in boxes, and complete strangers wandering around their home and pawing through their stuff.  The guy was a photographer and loved trains.  They must have used to ski, too, way back when.  And judging by some of the clothing, one of them worked for the National Park Service.  

    When I die, I don’t want a bunch of losers pawing through my worldly goods.  I want to have passed on the important stuff to the important people.  

    • #10
  11. Poindexter Member
    Poindexter
    @Poindexter

    I feel for you, @arahant. We just got through disposing of my late Dad’s personal effects after he died last spring. I remember most of the things from growing up. The fact is, things that have a great deal of meaning for you won’t have nearly as much, if any meaning for someone else.

    Don’t be too quick to discard the idea of donating the items to a charity-run thrift shop. Imagine a young wife or daughter buying those beautiful pieces of art for her husband, son, or father at a good price. They could well become beloved heirlooms with lots of meaning for them. Giving them to your niece is also a good idea; jewelry can be skillfully re-purposed into other uses if she desires.

    • #11
  12. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Spin (View Comment):
    PS – I knew you had a “jewelry chest”, you girly man.

    Custom crafted for my cuff link collection of the time. Of course, the collection has expanded since, and I now have the overflow in nine plastic tackle/utility boxes. I just counted. Including today’s acquisitions, I seem to have at least 279 sets. Some have matching tie bars or pins. At least six are accompanied by matching studs. Then I have one more pair of fairly plain studs that can go with several sets of links.

    Now, mind you none of these are extremely expensive. Many were found in second-hand/”antique” shops. Many are modern, such as the Wallace and Gromit pair or the Smiley Face pair. I have at least three pairs my wife won’t let me wear, one of which belonged to my father and is a relic of the 60’s or 70’s and are like fake giant star sapphires about two inches long. Mostly cheap stuff.

    I do have one set that was custom made, but it’s of sterling silver, so it’s not as if it were diamond-encrusted gold. It’s a set with a tie bar and was based on the tie bar, a kriss sword. The jeweler copied the original gold tie bar in sterling silver and then copied the form to create the cuff links as smaller swords or daggers.

    • #12
  13. Kay of MT Inactive
    Kay of MT
    @KayofMT

    Spin (View Comment):
    When I die, I don’t want a bunch of losers pawing through my worldly goods. I want to have passed on the important stuff to the important people.

    I feel exactly the same way Spin.

    • #13
  14. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    PHCheese (View Comment):

    Does it need to stay in the family, perhaps a good friend or his son?

    I think I would offer my wife’s nieces first option on that particular set. It did belong to their grandfather for forty years. If neither wants it, that would be a different situation. I’ve had them for more than twenty years, and believe I can reasonably expect to live as long as my father. If I do, I will have had them longer than fifty years before I check out.

    • #14
  15. Mark Camp Member
    Mark Camp
    @MarkCamp

    Hoo boy.

    I will just say, thanks.

    • #15
  16. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Mark Camp (View Comment):

    Hoo boy.

    I will just say, thanks.

    Heh, you’d probably like the slide rule tie bars (and yes, they really work), but those are part of my slide rule collection.

    • #16
  17. Mark Camp Member
    Mark Camp
    @MarkCamp

    Arahant (View Comment):

    Mark Camp (View Comment):

    Hoo boy.

    I will just say, thanks.

    Heh, you’d probably like the slide rule tie bars (and yes, they really work), but those are part of my slide rule collection.

    If there’s another nice story in there somewhere, then we’d all like to hear it, even those of us who, lacking my appreciation of technical things, would fail see the ineffable beauty in slide rule tie bars, per se.

    Since you got me on the subject, the image of slide rule tie bars got me thinking about Albert Einstein’s popular science book on general relativity, the bit where he gives an operational definition of space.  I wonder if, in theory, your slide rule tie bars could be modified by a variable stretching process to measure distances in space-time, in the presence of gravity.

    Never mind.  I see my coffee cup is empty and I need to brew a new pot.  Of decaf this time.

    • #17
  18. Juliana Member
    Juliana
    @Juliana

    As a part time antique dealer, I see this sort of thing all the time. The sentimentality and stories that mean so much to you, unfortunately, mean almost nothing to those who have to decide what to do with things to which they have no connection. Often I hear the tales of some object which has moved with its owner three or four times and they don’t want it, but can’t part with it ‘because it belonged to Grandma.’

    We see many people come in to the store asking what they should do with their Grandma’s china or crystal. Very few people entertain with china and crystal anymore. Much of it is simply not salable – most people want something they can put into a microwave or dishwasher.

    If you have the time and energy, I would suggest taking some pictures of things you know are family heirlooms, and/or have an interesting story behind them, such as your cuff links. Put these memories together rather than the things themselves. The stories of our ancestors are more interesting than the items and can be passed down without guilt. 

    • #18
  19. KentForrester Coolidge
    KentForrester
    @KentForrester

    I don’t think I’ve ever known anyone who wore tie bars and cuff links.  What are you, Arahant, some kind of dandy?  

    Here’s my solution:  Invite in all of your relatives, and spread out all of your tie bars and cuff links onto your living room floor.  Then say “Go!” and let them fight over your man-jewelry hoard.

    It might make a enjoyable spectacle. 

    So you’re leaving us in the lurch until Easter?   You mean you’re not even going to look in on us!?   What in the world could keep you away?  A deserted island with no wi-fi?  

    Or are you just tired of us? 

    • #19
  20. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    KentForrester (View Comment):
    Here’s my solution: Invite in all of your relatives, and spread out all of your tie bars and cuff links onto your living room floor. Then say “Go!” and let them fight over your man-jewelry hoard.

    Tempting. Or maybe I’ll bury it like these Viking and Anglo-Saxon hoards that are dug up now and then.

    • #20
  21. Juliana Member
    Juliana
    @Juliana

    If you don’t want strangers pawing through your worldly possessions, you need to dispose of them yourself. Otherwise, everything will either end up at Goodwill or in a dumpster. If you have things you think are valuable, check with a local antique store. More than likely one of the dealers will come to your house, evaluate what you have, and offer to purchase much/some of it from you.  Pick out what you want to give to a relative or donate to a cause, do it (don’t wait until you are dead), then only keep what you need or is really special to you – what gives you joy on a daily basis. (I have a pair of faintly colored marble parrots that are just beautiful and will most likely not go until I do.) 

    I can’t emphasize this enough – you need to do something with your things or they will be dumpster bound. And even your kids really don’t want to be pawing through all those lovely birthday, anniversary, and valentine’s cards with private sentiments you gave your spouse – then putting them in a recycling bin or the trash. Make decisions now, and if you think you have the genes to hit 100 – try telling that to God. (Cue the lightning bolt!)

    • #21
  22. The Great Adventure! Inactive
    The Great Adventure!
    @TheGreatAdventure

    Thoughtful, heartfelt post Arahant.  Over the course of November-January my wife and I had the task of basically liquidating all of my Mom’s worldly possessions.  She had a hard fall onto the back of her head (the latest in an unfortunately long series) on Nov 5 and it became clear even to her that she could no longer live on her own.  

    As we began wading through it all, I was blown away.  My last grandparent on either side passed away in 1984 and there were boxes and boxes full of photos from both sides of my family.  There was also a sizable amount of jewelry – very little of it of any great value.  We found my grandfather’s purple heart and another medal as well as a citation for bravery from Black Jack Pershing (I wrote a post about my grandfather a couple of months ago).  Found an expended artillery shell that had been pounded out artistically, and it contained a rolled up picture of his unit from WWI.  These are treasures that we are preserving and I’ve already been telling my kids the stories about him, so hopefully they’ll cherish them as I do. 

    But there was just so much stuff! We spent weeks sorting through everything.  In the end, there was a huge amount that meant something to her, to my late father, but simply not to me or anyone else we know.  Keeping it would have meant more boxes to collect dust somewhere in our house, probably never to be opened again until we pass or end up in assisted living.  My Mom had 2 sets of fine china.  We have a full set of our own from when we got married, and neither of our kids have any interest in owning china.  There was a beautiful myrtle wood salad set – again, we already have one.  Knick knacks and do-dads galore.  

    It was an agony and a simultaneous relief to contact a friend whose business is doing estate sales.  He came in, organized everything in her condo, and sent out marketing for the sale.  He asked us very specifically to not show up during the sale, so we made a trip up to Seattle to visit our son for that weekend.  It was mind boggling to come go over the following Monday and the place was 100% empty.  And Mom pocketed a nice check.

    It’s a tough season of life to go through.  I’m struck that I don’t want my kids to have to go through as much when I’m at Mom’s point.  Truth be told it’s closer than I want to believe.  But my wife and I still try to live by a mantra we developed about 5 years ago – “We have to own our stuff – we can’t let our stuff own us”

    Thank you for Julia’s story.

    • #22
  23. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    The Great Adventure! (View Comment):
    As we began wading through it all, I was blown away.

    When Julia died, my wife and her sister had to go through everything. Julia had been paring things down for decades, trying to live the minimalist life. And still it took a few weekends.

    • #23
  24. Brian Inactive
    Brian
    @BrianJoselit

    Beautiful and sad, thanks for sharing not sure exactly why but stories like this strengthen my faith in humanity 

    • #24
  25. Ralphie Inactive
    Ralphie
    @Ralphie

    Make sure you give the story with the physical gift. Like the word with water, the gift is symbolic of something much greater than the gold it is created from.

    An interesting note on the comment about his few dress clothes. A social scientist once wrote something along the lines of you can tell the social class of someone by how large the difference between his working clothes and dress clothes.  I kind of was insulted a little when I read it, because I know a lot of classy working men and some real pieces of crap that dress in a suit daily. Your father in law sounds classy to me.

    • #25
  26. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey
    @GaryMcVey

    What a fine, fine post. Full of emotion and wisdom. 

    It’s March 6, so in little over an hour Arahant will be taking his Lenten retreat. I’m sure others here will agree; we wish him the best of a holy Easter season, and look forward to seeing his writing again.

    • #26
  27. Yehoshua Ben-Eliyahu Inactive
    Yehoshua Ben-Eliyahu
    @YehoshuaBenEliyahu

    Kay of MT (View Comment):
    Because I now live in poverty

    But you are rich in spirit.  Soldier on Kay.  You are an example to us all.

    • #27
  28. Nancy Spalding Thatcher
    Nancy Spalding
    @NancySpalding

    Arahant (View Comment):

    Heh, you’d probably like the slide rule tie bars (and yes, they really work), but those are part of my slide rule collection.

    My dad had an abacus tie bar and cuff links — long gone, I had forgotten about them until I saw this! they were very cool… 

    thank you for sharing this; it is a beautiful story, and such small things give me good memories of people and moments when I use them.

    I struggle with worry about sorting through my stuff also; my parents died suddenly and relatively young, and so we (my two brothers and I) were left to try to sift through their stuff. it is just hard to get around to it! but I can’t leave it for my daughter. 

    • #28
  29. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Ralphie (View Comment):
    A social scientist once wrote something along the lines of you can tell the social class of someone by how large the difference between his working clothes and dress clothes.

    Social class is not the same as having manners or being nice. I was a consultant who owned my own firm, so as well as suits, I have my own Tuxedo for the many black tie events I used to attend. (Also why I have so many stud sets, of course.)

    • #29
  30. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Nancy Spalding (View Comment):
    My dad had an abacus tie bar and cuff links — long gone, I had forgotten about them until I saw this! they were very cool…

    Hmmmn…After a quick search, I see sets priced anywhere from $7.29 to $225. 😁

    • #30
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