Some time ago I wrote a column about heirlooms. In it I pointed out how few there are and how even fewer go back very far. I requested that anyone with an interesting heirloom, especially if it was very old, let me know about it. The idea was to see how far back we could go and how unique we could get with the thing.
Well, I received many interesting responses.As I had supposed, none went back to the Trojan War or to the Nina, Pinta or Santa Maria. In fact, few go back any more than a hundred years, and many far less that.
However, the variety was immense: a carved wooden doll, a shoemaker's last, wedding china, an 1853 Welsh edition of the Book of Mormon, an oak bench, an iron cemetery gate, a gold pendant, a porcelain sugar bowl, a sewing machine, a mantel clock (with the original $5 price tag), a pioneer shawl, baby shoes, a quilt, a coin purse, pink goblets, tortoise shell hair combs, a handmade bridle, an umbrella, a plant stand, a platform rocker, a trunk full of family mementos and pictures, most of which are without names, a baby crib, a food chopper, dining room chairs with lions carved on them. The list goes on.
Just think of the stories behind each object.
The selection was so broad that I was concerned about which to mention in detail, when one day I received a photograph with a handwritten note on the back of it from an 85-year-old lady in Panquitch by the name of Ruth Henrie. Somehow, her heirloom struck a chord. I would like to share it with you.
On the back of the note was written the following:
"I fell heir to this brass fire lighter - or coal carrier. It was 200 years old when it was given to my grandmother (1830-1909). My mother, who died in 1952 at 85 years, tells about it in an interesting article she wrote in 1950 . . . published by the Utah Historical Society."
So I went to the Historical Society and got a copy of the article to which Ruth referred.
Ruth's mother, Maria Larsen Heywood, had grown up in Pleasant Grove, where her mother had been one of the original settlers.
Maria recalled, as a young girl, helping her mother take food to the poor. She especially remembered an elderly woman named Britti, who for a time lived in a hovel, or dugout, in the ground. "I had to walk down some steps and don't know which frightened me most, the dark room or Britti's kisses on my hands and her German chatter of thanks."
At some time, the old woman had given Maria's mother the brass fire lighter. She later gave it to Maria, who passed it on to Ruth. Ruth has now given it to her daughter, who lives in Cedar City. She has had it framed. Someday, no doubt, she will pass it on to one of her own children. (If you have more than one child, it pays to have more than one heirloom.)
Some of you may be wondering what a fire lighter is. I did. If you haven't guessed, I'll give you a hint: Fire lighters became obsolete with the advent of matches.
In other words, fire lighters were used to carry live coals from one place to another to start a new fire. If your fire went out completely, you would go to the neighbor's with your fire lighter, hoping their fire hadn't gone out, too.
I think I became attached to this particular heirloom because it fits so well with the main idea I had wanted to focus on in the first place.
Just as the fire lighter was a tool for passing on live embers to start a new flame, heirlooms serve the same purpose for the soul. A physical link between generations, they pass a spark of spirit from one lifetime to another.
(SB) Dennis Smith is a writer and artist living in Highland.