Many families cherish objects connected to their immigration story. Our family wasn’t like that. Both of my parents were second generation Americans and descendants of Eastern European Jews and born in Brooklyn in the 20s. They forged new paths and sought a lifestyle in the mid-west not beholden to their past. Perhaps it’s why I studied anthropology—to gain insights into rituals that were studiously avoided when I was growing up.
In our family Thanksgiving was the only holiday worthy of celebration. My mother’s Brazil nut stuffing; my father’s performance of extracting a samurai sword from a faux-ivory-carved scabbard to slice the overcooked turkey. And of course, the special china that saw the light of day this one time each year.
When it was time to divvy up the “stuff” after my parents died I inherited this china. Fully intact and filled with meaning—I believed it had been their wedding china—it offered a special connection to our one family ritual.
Recently, when having my kitchen cabinet repaired, I failed to remove the china. In a nanosecond, the creamer came crashing to the floor. I felt overwhelmed by anger and sadness. The end of an era. While searching online for a replacement I discovered that this setting was, in fact, only sold in the 70s, decades after my parents’ marriage. What other myths have I falsely imparted to material objects? And how much do they really matter when it comes to connecting with our past.
– Elaine Charnov